Musharraf a liability, should resign : ICG

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Islamabad, Jan 3 (UNI) Unless President Musharraf steps down, tensions in the wake of Benazir Bhutto's assassination will worsen, and Pakistan could descend into civil war from which only extremists would gain, a report by a Brussels-based think tank said.

The report called upon the western governments, specially the US, to recognise that the once military ruler was a ''liability'' alleging he was seen by many countrymen as complicit in Bhutto's death and that the country's moderate majority will accept only genuine parliamentary democracy.

''The US and its Western allies must recognise that Musharraf is not only not indispensable, but he is now a serious liability.

Instead of backing a deeply unpopular authoritarian ruler who is seen as complicit in the death of Pakistan's most popular politician, they must instead support democratic institutions and the people of Pakistan,'' the report by International Crisis Group (ICG) said.

The report comes as President Musharraf defended the postponement of elections until February 18 after the killing of former prime minister Bhutto, and invited Britain to help probe her death.

In his first major speech to the nation since her assassination, which sparked riots across the country, Gen (retd) Musharraf said a Scotland Yard team would ''immediately'' come to help resolve doubts surrounding the circumstances of how the Pakistan People's Party chief died.

The think tank called for President Musharraf to resign and for a quick transition to a democratically elected civilian government.

''The regime's international backers, particularly the US, continue to give signs of wanting to retain Musharraf in the presidency in the belief that he and the military (his sole support base) are the only guarantors of stability in a crucial country,'' the report states.

''But after Bhutto's murder, and with the extent of popular anger now evident, elections that are not seen as free and fair would have disastrous consequences.

''The person of Musharraf has become so unpopular that his continuation in a position of power guarantees increasing domestic turmoil,'' it said.

Although the ICG agreed with the decision to postpone the parliamentary election scheduled for January 8 to February 18 it raised doubts over their legitimacy saying, ''Stacked courts, partial caretaker governments, a subservient Election Commission, the gagging of the media, curbs on political party mobilisation and association and the actions of the security agencies all undermined the essential conditions for free and fair elections.'' The think tank called for some policy outcomes to be strongly and consistently supported by the international community which includes President Musharraf's resignation, appointment of neutral caretaker governments at the national and provincial levels, full restoration of the Constitution, including an independent judiciary and constitutionally guaranteed fundamental rights, reconstitution of the Election Commission of Pakistan; and the transfer of power and legitimate authority to elected civilian hands.

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