ISLAMABAD: Both President George W Bush and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown have urged President Musharraf to stick to the Jan 8 election schedule, but they have been told Pakistan will watch the unfolding situation after the assassination of PPP leader Benazir Bhutto before making any decision.
President Bush had a telephonic conversation with President Musharraf on Thursday and told him to stick to the set election schedule otherwise terrorists would feel they had won.
“Terrorists can only be confronted by democracy and they should not be allowed under any circumstances to achieve their goal,” a senior official quoted Bush as telling Musharraf while discussing the situation emerging from the assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto with him, on Thursday.
According to him, the US president said if the Jan 8 polls were postponed, the terrorists would feel encouraged that they had forced Pakistan to do what they had wanted.
The official confided to The News that President Musharraf told Bush that he was committed to holding the polls on time but had to take into account the situation developing after Bhutto’s cruel murder.
In his public comment, Bush urged Pakistanis to “honour Bhutto’s memory by continuing with the democratic process for which she so bravely gave her life.”
White House spokesman Scott Stanzel urged Pakistan to maintain the date for the elections and said Washington hoped Bhutto’s party would participate in the vote.
State Department spokesman Tom Casey said Bhutto “does have a strong political party, and we hope that it will continue to move forward and be able to participate in the democratic process in Pakistan under its new leadership. We think that is what she would have wanted.”
A Pakistani official said that while expressing her condolences over the death of his wife, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice urged Asif Zardari that the PPP should not walk away from the polls and should take part in the elections as it was doing when Bhutto was alive.
However, another top official frankly admitted that holding of the elections on the appointed date appeared impossible and the polls were likely to be delayed for a few weeks (more than a month) in view of the tragic slaying, especially because of the dangerous situation that the occurrence had created, and the attitude of some important political players, contesting the elections.
“At the moment, the official mind has not been applied to the rescheduling of the elections because everybody is distressed. It would be premature to say anything about the fate of the upcoming polls,” yet another official told this correspondent.
He said high-level consultations on the subject would take place after 3/4 days. At present, restoration of normalcy and order is the top priority, he added.
However, another official said election postponement for a few weeks was on the cards to give time to the nation to overcome the national tragedy and let the things settle down.
“The government’s effort would be to have all the key political parties, contesting the elections, on board on the question of holding the polls.”
He said all the election-related procedures including filing of nomination papers, their scrutiny, disposal of appeals, allotment of polls symbols, etc, which have been completed, would be kept in place and the unfinished days meant for the campaign would be given to the contestants when a new polling date would be fixed. There would be no need to go through all these processes, he added.
The official said in his brief televised condolence over Bhutto’s death Musharraf had deliberately skipped talk on postponing or holding of the elections as per the schedule because he wanted to see how the political situation unfolded in the wake of the unfortunate happening.
A few weeks’ delay in the elections may not earn blistering international attack. Commonwealth Secretary General Don MacKinnon has approved polls postponement for some time because of the tough situation created by Bhutto’s murder.
However, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has urged Musharraf to stick to the course he had outlined to build democracy after Bhutto’s death.
Bhutto was undeniably very keen to contest the elections, and had even displeased Nawaz Sharif for not sharing his view on boycotting the polls. Her stand had led to the change of decision by Nawaz as well who, to great chagrin of the APDM, had joined the electoral bandwagon.