Washington, Feb.16 : The Bush Administration is reportedly struggling to find credibel observers willing to travel to Pakistan and observe the February 18 elections and the counting of votes thereafter.
According to the Washington Post, established institutes like the Atlanta, Georgia-based Carter Center, the National Democratic Institute and the Asia Foundation to name a few, have been approached, but without much success.
Well-established non-governmental groups have turned down the State Department's request to join the American monitoring team,citing security concerns.
The U.S. Agency for International Development then reached out to the last name on its list: Democracy International, a small, Bethesda-based consulting firm that does 90 percent of its business with the U.S. government. Finally, someone said yes. The State Department and Democracy International signed the contract, worth nearly a million dollars, on February. 8, only 10 days before the vote.
The frantic effort to mobilize Americans to observe Pakistan's election -- a vote that will determine the political fate of a nuclear-armed power on the front line of the fight against terrorism and Islamic extremism -- underscores the Bush administration's bid to boost President Pervez Musharraf, says the paper.
Concerns are widespread in Pakistan that Musharraf and his supporters will seek to rig Monday's vote in order to avoid a new parliamentary majority that could seek to impeach Musharraf, whose approval rating was 15 percent in a recent poll.
But the lateness of the U.S. mission to observe the election has also sparked questions about the American effort.
The paper quoted Mark L. Schneider, senior vice president of the International Crisis Group, who visited Pakistan last fall, as saying: "You can't go in two or three days before the election and expect to be able to make a judgment."
Observer missions usually take months of preparation, even for experienced monitors. IRI set up shop in Islamabad last August, while the National Democratic Institute conducted two pre-election missions in Pakistan last year. Even USAID's own manual on election assistance warns of last-minute efforts:
Until recently, the State Department focused its assistance and financial support on Pakistan's Election Commission, which has come under increasing criticism.
Human Rights Watch charged this week that the commission has not checked during the campaign "widespread irregularities" that could skew election results. Opposition candidates and party members have been arrested and harassed, while state resources have been used on behalf of candidates loyal to Musharraf, Human Rights Watch reported.
The government has also transferred judges or appointed dozens of new ones who will be responsible for aggregating ballots from thousands of polling stations and then adjudicating election complaints. Police officers have been transferred in key districts where the opposition is strong, Human Rights Watch said.
The European Union is sending a 100-member mission to observe the Pakistani vote. Most of Democracy International's 35-member delegation arrived yesterday for Monday's election.