The United States said Monday it would oppose an indefinite delay in parliamentary elections in Pakistan in the wake of last week's assassination of opposition leader Benazir Bhutto. The government of President Pervez Musharraf is expected to announce Tuesday if it will postpone the January 8 voting. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.
State Department officials stress the timing of the vote is entirely for Pakistanis to decide. But they none the less say if the January 8 vote is to be put off, it should be rescheduled for a date certain to allay any concerns about the country's democratic course.
In the immediate aftermath of the Bhutto assassination, the Bush administration endorsed holding the vote as planned on January 8, but as unrest mounted it said there was "nothing magic" about that date and would support a finite delay if that was the will of Pakistanis.
State Department Deputy Spokesman Tom Casey reiterated that view Monday and said the United States' only concern would be with an open-ended postponement:
"The key here is that there be a date certain for elections in Pakistan. We would certainly, I think, have concerns about some sort of indefinite postponement of the elections because I don't think that serves the interests of anyone, certainly not the Pakistani people. And we very much want to make sure that there is a clear date certain set for the Pakistanis to be able to elect their new government," said Casey.
Spokesman Casey offered congratulations to Ms. Bhutto's 19-year-old son, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, who Sunday was named chairman of the slain former prime minister's Pakistan People's Party.
Asked if a major political party can be successfully led by someone that young, Casey said parties there can choose whoever they want, and that the United States stand ready to work with all political leaders to ensure a moderate and democratic Pakistan.
On another issue, the State Department angrily rejected a published suggestion that it had been unresponsive to concerns expressed by Bhutto aides, before the assassination, about her security in Pakistan.
Conservative columnist Robert Novak said in a commentary in the Washington Post that U.S. officials had been ambivalent about the concerns and assured Bhutto advisers that President Musharraf would not allow harm to come to her.
Spokesman Casey said U.S. officials were seriously concerned about Bhutto's safety both before and after her return from exile in October and raised the matter regularly with her, officials of her party and with Mr. Musharraf. He said any assertion to the contrary is false:
"It is simply untrue and I just do not understand why anyone, anywhere would assert that the United States either did not have concerns, minimized those concerns, or was not very active in trying to ensure that she was provided with whatever kind of security support she required," he said.
Novak reported in his column that Ms. Bhutto told a Washington friend in an e-mail two months ago that the Musharraf government was obstructing her security efforts in various ways, and that an envoy who met U.S. officials in early December to renew her concerns received a "brush-off."
A spokesman with President Bush in Texas, meanwhile, expressed support for a full investigation of the circumstances of Ms. Bhutto's death, saying that would be in the interest of the Pakistani people and prospects for democracy there.
Deputy White House Press Secretary Scott Stanzel said the United States has offered Pakistan any assistance it might require in such a probe, but that there has been no request for help from the Islamabad government.