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US Presses for January Elections in Pakistan


The United States is continuing to press Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf to allow parliamentary elections to proceed as planned in mid-January despite his imposition of emergency rule last Saturday. An inter-agency review of possible cuts in U.S. aid to Pakistan has begun. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

Administration officials say they believe it is still possible to have the elections in January despite the trauma of President Musharraf's emergency declaration.

The message has been conveyed to Islamabad authorities in a variety of ways, including a telephone call to General Musharraf Monday by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and an unusual visit Tuesday by U.S. Ambassador Anne Patterson to Pakistan's chief election commissioner.

At a news briefing, State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack conceded that the U.S. envoy's call on election chief Qazi Muhammed Farooq in Islambad was only symbolic, given that he lacks the authority to order the vote to proceed. But he said the gesture underlines U.S. determination to help put Pakistan back on a pathway to full democracy.

"We can help with that," said McCormack. "But we all know that what needs to happen first is the President Musharraf is going to need to rescind and roll-back the extra-constitutional orders that they have given. President Musharraf has made certain commitments with respect to taking off the uniform and to holding elections as scheduled in January. We have, through a number of different means, conveyed to him that we expect him to abide by those commitments."

Since General Musharraf took the emergency steps late Saturday, authorities in Islamabad have been sending mixed signals about the fate of the elections.

One cabinet member said a delay of up to three months was being discussed while former prime minister and opposition leader Benazir Bhutto said there had already been a decision to put back the vote by one or two years.

In a telephone conference call with reporters, U.S. Council of Foreign Relations Pakistan expert Daniel Markey said it would take a "Herculean" effort to roll back General Musharaff's emergency restrictions and hold the vote in January.

Markey, a State Department South Asia policy official until earlier this year, said the United States needs to do all it can to facilitate a political truce between General Musharraf and Ms. Bhutto, and to get a specific time-table for a return to civilian rule. In the absence of that, Markey said there could be severe unrest in Pakistan and a resulting major setback to U.S. interests.

"If we don't see progress in the next few days on that agenda, and if it in fact breaks down and you see Benazir making statements that are more fiery and getting her people out into the streets, I think we're heading in a really bad direction," said Markey.

Spokesman McCormack said an interagency team of U.S. officials has begun an examination of possible cuts in U.S. aid to Pakistan, a prospect raised by Secretary Rice on Sunday.

The United States has provided Pakistan with nearly $10 billion in aid, mostly security related, since President Musharraf sided with the Bush administration in the war on terrorism after the 2001 attacks on the United States.

The Bush administration has asked Congress to approve nearly $800 million in further assistance for the coming year.

A suspension of at least some aid would be automatic under terms of legislation barring assistance to governments that curb democracy.

But a senior official who spoke to reporters here cautioned against expectations of a severe cut, saying it would not be in the U.S. national interest to, as he put it "hamstring," or cripple, counter-terrorism efforts with Pakistan.

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