New York, Feb.2 : A leading US newspaper says that "successfully moving Pakistan from military rule to civilian-run democracy is essential to combating extremism," and adds that President Pervez Musharraf can play a major role in this regard.
In an editorial published on Friday, the New York Times says: "Since the political crisis mushroomed last year, Mr Musharraf has worked overtime clinging to power. It's hard to believe that if he is faced with a tidal wave of popular dissatisfaction, he will let voters choose a parliament that could one day remove him. We hope we are wrong. He has promised world leaders a fair election. If it is rigged, they must hold him accountable."
Reflecting on Musharraf's eight-day European trip, the NYT further says: "Mr Musharraf petulantly lashed out at an influential group of retired officers from Pakistan's powerful military that had urged him to step down immediately, dismissing them in a Financial Times interview as insignificant personalities."
"In fact, they are yet another reflection of how the ex-army chief of staff's popularity has plummeted, even among former fellow officers".
Saying that "throughout his European tour, Musharraf insisted that he could weather the political turmoil back home, the paper stressed that "even senior (Bush) administration officials now admit that there are still 'serious distortions' in the Pakistani election process and that given the country's history, some voter fraud is expected. And that's what they say in public. The classified version can only be worse."
Musharraf, it says continues to put unwarranted restrictions on the news media, to jail political opponents without charge and to refuse to reinstate the Supreme Court Chief Justice and other judges.
The lack of security also remains a serious concern as the fight against Al Qaeda and the Taliban has expanded from the Afghan border to Pakistani cities. This, the NYT editorial claims has hindered candidates in campaigning and could discourage turnout for the February 18 polls.