NATIONAL

`Musharraf trying to retain power'

KARACHI OCT. 3. The Pakistan President, Pervez Musharraf's quest for international legitimacy for next week's general elections suffered yet another blow today as a renowned non-governmental organisation accused him of following the pattern set by his predecessors in uniform to perpetuate his own rule.

In a report on the October 10 election, released in Pakistan and Brussels, the International Crisis Group (ICG) alleged that Gen. Musharraf is not exactly sticking to his promise to restore democracy and transfer power to an elected government. ``His military government is following the pattern of Pakistan's previous military rulers by unilaterally instituting political and constitutional changes intended to ensure that the generals retain the real power and any democratic transition falters before it begins'', it said.

This is the third international group to question the sincerity of the Musharraf Government to ensure full transfer of power to a civilian set-up. The National Institute for Democracy, based in the United States, and the European Union (EU) election observers group had raised similar concerns. However, the EU had clarified that its report, published in a section of the Pakistani press, was meant for internal consumption and did not constitute the final view of the forum.

The ICG report titled `Pakistan: Transition to Democracy?' said both the military and the political elite were to blame for the failure of the country to develop a democratic government. The ICG South Asia Project Director, Samina Ahmed, said, "the political elite succumbed in the past to the military's tactics, tempted by the spoils of power, and is again facing a blueprint for more military rule''.

The ICG felt external pressure, especially from the United States and the European Union, was vital if Gen. Musharraf were to fulfil his pledge to restore democracy. `Washington and its allies have so far said little, in the misguided belief that Pakistan's military is the only institution that can combat terrorism in the region and hold back the tide of Islamist extremism''.

Ms. Samina Ahmed said, "a military government in Pakistan has already exacerbated tensions with India over Kashmir, and elements of the military have used the jihadis for their own purposes. Political stability will elude Pakistan until the country has a representative government. There is a high risk that the coming elections will not be free and fair. But if they are, the victors would be the major, moderate parties who are sympathetic to U.S. goals in the region, who have their own reasons to normalise relations with India and curb the powers of extremist groups''.

According to the ICG, the `reforms' proposed by Gen. Musharraf would actually give the President much greater powers, including the power to dissolve the National Assembly. The General had warned parliamentarians that if they did not accept his amendments they would lose their jobs.

``Electoral procedures have been revised, disqualifying scores of politicians from standing, including former Prime Ministers who lead the major opposition parties, while the judiciary has been subordinated to the executive through forced resignations, selective appointments and inducements''.

The report urged Pakistan to conduct free and fair elections and to ensure that local and international observers had secure and unrestricted access to the electoral process.

Confusion

Meanwhile there was confusion over what would be the fate of the constitutional amendments and laws made by Gen. Musharraf after the elections and the constitution of the National Assembly.

A report from Islamabad today claimed that a larger bench of the Supreme Court of Pakistan had observed that the new Parliament can `rescind or endorse' the Legal Framework Order 2002 under Article 239 of the Constitution. The report said the apex court made the observation while hearing a petition moved by a political party.

Three days ago, all the major dailies had carried a similar report attributed to the judges hearing an election-related petition. However, the following day, the Supreme Court Registrar said there was a `mis-reporting' of the remarks.

In a related development, the former Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, claimed in an interview from Jeddah to the BBC Urdu Service that he had turned down a deal offered by Gen. Musharraf under which he could return home and contest the elections. Mr. Sharif claimed that the General had sent an envoy for the purpose.

The BBC correspondent, who is now here, said while Mr. Sharif sounded defiant, he did not want the interview to be recorded. He told the BBC that he would continue his fight against the ``dictatorship of Musharraf"'.

He said that as Prime Minister he had administered the oath of office to Gen. Musharraf for the post of army chief under which the latter hah promised to uphold the Constitution and serve the government of the day and not get involved in politics.

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