Washington, Jan 3: American diplomats in Islamabad are engaged in intense behind-the-scene talks with their Pakistani counterparts to take steps to ensure that general elections are deemed credible by both Pakistanis and the international community.
According to the Washington Post, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had discussed with President Pervez Musharraf on New Year's Day the importance next month's election as a means of restoring stability in a nuclear-armed country that is also at the front line of fighting extremism. US State Department spokesperson Sean McCormack was quoted as saying that Islamabad needs to make the best use of the time between now and February 18 when the elections will be held.
McCormack said the government needs to ensure that an independent media is able to operate and make sure that elections are held in a free, fair and transparent manner.
US officials say they are trying to capitalise on the shock of Bhutto's assassination and the growing threat of instability to pressure Musharraf to take steps that he has resisted for months. Meanwhile, there have been growing calls for Musharraf to step aside.
In a report, the International Crisis Group, a non-partisan international monitoring group, has warned that Pakistan's moderate majority is unlikely to settle for anything less than genuine parliamentary democracy.
"Stability in Pakistan and its contribution to wider anti-terror efforts now require rapid transition to legitimate civilian government," the ICG concluded, adding that "This must involve the departure of Musharraf." Washington is also pushing Islamabad to reform the Election Commission so it is no longer seen as a Musharraf prop.
The International Republican Institute, a democracy advocacy group, pulled out of monitoring the election in Pakistan because of unusual restrictions placed on monitoring groups by the Pakistani Government and because of security concerns.
Pakistan denied the IRI permission to conduct an exit poll and demanded notification of polling places to be visited. The restrictions made it all but impossible to issue a credible report on the elections, said IRI president Lorne W. Craner.
Craner said that this is first time in 20 years and in span of observing 140 elections that they encountered anything like that.