US senator warns of serious consequences for rigging in Pak polls

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Islamabad, Dec 10 (UNI) A senior member of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee has warned of 'serious consequences', including a shift in the American policy towards Pakistan, if fair and free elections are not held on February 18.

''While there will be further division in Pakistan, there will be certain action against Pakistan by Congress if polls are not held in a transparent and fair manner,'' Dawn newspaper quoted Senator Joseph Lieberman as saying in Islamabad after meeting top Pakistani leaders including President Pervez Musharraf.

''In fact there will be serious consequences for both countries if elections are rigged as is being alleged by some political parties.'' He said he had met President Pervez Musharraf, Prime Minister Mohammedmian Soomro, Chief of the Army Staff Gen Parvez Kayani, Chairman of Strategic Planning Division Lt-Gen Khalid Kidwai and many politicians, including PPP leader Makhdoom Amin Fahim and PML-N Vice chairman Raja Zafarul Haq, with a view to improving Pakistan-US relations.

Pakistan, he said, could not afford to have more division and desperately needed unity by holding genuine elections as a result of which a consensus government could be formed in the country.

''There is a profound expression of distrust about elections and the people needed to be proven wrong about it,'' he said.

''These days quite lively discussion is taking place in the United States about the freedom of press, emergency and judiciary of Pakistan,'' he added.

The US, he said, had told President Musharraf that elections in Pakistan must be held next month and that concerns of all political parties about rigging must be allayed.

Senator Lieberman said there were 'difficult and controversial' months ahead in terms of the forthcoming elections, terrorism and extremism.

He termed his meeting with Lt-Gen Kidwai very ''important and successful'' and said it was very encouraging for him to know that Pakistan's nuclear weapons were in safe hands. He said he found Gen Kidwai a highly professional person who was doing his job quite satisfactorily.

''There is a multi-layer security about Pakistan's nuclear arsenals and I will take a good message about it for the US Senate,'' he added.

Similarly, the US senator said, the new army chief was very clear about his responsibilities to fight terrorists and extremists by containing activities of Al Qaeda and Taliban in borders areas of Pakistan.

He told a reporter that it was ''really reassuring'' to know that Pakistan's nuclear weapons were in safe hands and there was no danger that they could fall into the hands of extremists.

''I am confident that Pakistan's strategic assets will continue to be well protected,'' he concluded.

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