US-based NDI warns against postponement of polls in Pakistan

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Islamabad, Oct 22 (UNI) An international delegation of the US-based National Democratic Institute (NDI) today warned against the postponement of general elections in Pakistan, saying any delay could undermine people's confidence in the electoral process.

The polls must be held as per schedule, four-member pre-election assessment mission head Tom Daschle, also a former US Senate majority leader, said today.

''After five days of meetings with the government and electoral officials, political leaders and representatives of civil society and international organisations, we have urged the government to take immediate steps to contain political violence, curtail security agencies' involvement in the electoral process and ensure equal opportunities to all the political parties and leaders,'' the Dawn newspaper quoted him as saying.

If the elections enjoy the confidence of Pakistanis, they could help return the nation to a democratic path and end the eight years of increasingly unpopular military rule.

Elections that meet international standards could also help stabilise a nuclear power and an important strategic ally in the war on terror, which is threatened by the escalating civil strife and political violence, he remarked.

He said the nation could face increased civil conflict and the military could become further entrenched in the nation's political life if the integrity of the elections was seriously compromised.

The escalating violence and intimidation was creating an atmosphere of fear, he further said, adding that the delegation viewed former prime minister Benazir Bhutto's return to Pakistan as a positive step.

However, Nawaz Sharif, also a former prime minister, remained in exile. Many Pakistanis would not view the polls as credible without the presence of both the leaders, he mentioned.

The delegation received credible reports concerning attempts by Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and other security forces to manipulate the electoral process, he stated.

The attempts included efforts to influence local officials responsible for election administration at polling stations and to convince certain individuals not to seek their party's nomination or to switch allegiances.

The matter of ISI's involvement in the electoral process was raised by the delegation during its meeting with Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, he noted.

UNI

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