Warning against postponement of polls, ISI meddling

Warning against postponement of polls, ISI meddling
By Iftikhar A. Khan: Dawn, October 22, 2007

ISLAMABAD, Oct 21: An international delegation on Sunday warned against postponement of general elections, saying that any delay could undermine people’s confidence in the electoral process.

“The polls must be held as per schedule,” former US Senate majority leader Tom Daschle told a press conference as the head of the four-member pre-election assessment mission organized by the US-based National Democratic Institute (NDI) for international affairs.

Briefing newsmen on the findings and recommendations of the mission after five days of meetings with government and electoral officials, political leaders and representatives of civil society and international organisations, he urged the government to take immediate steps to contain political violence, curtail security agencies’ involvement in the electoral process and ensure equal opportunities to all the political parties and leaders.

“If the elections enjoy the confidence of Pakistanis, they could help return the nation to a democratic path and end eight years of increasingly unpopular military rule. Elections that meet international standards could also help stabilise a nuclear power and an important strategic ally in the war on terror, which is threatened by the escalating civil strife and political violence,” he remarked.

He said the nation could face increased civil conflict and the military could become further entrenched in the nation’s political life if the integrity of the elections was seriously compromised.

He said the escalating violence and intimidation was creating an atmosphere of fear.

He said the delegation viewed former prime minister Benazir Bhutto’s return to Pakistan as a positive step. But Nawaz Sharif, also a former prime minister, remained in exile. Many Pakistanis would not view the polls as credible without the presence of both the leaders.

He said the delegation received credible reports concerning attempts by Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and other security forces to manipulate the electoral process. The attempts included efforts to influence local officials responsible for election administration at polling stations and to convince certain individuals not to seek their party’s nomination or to switch allegiances.

He said the matter of ISI’s involvement in the electoral process was raised by the delegation during its meeting with Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz.

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