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US ‘pressing’ Musharraf to hold polls: Boucher


Islamabad : US Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher has assured Pakistani politicians that the Bush administration was "pressing" President Pervez Musharraf to hold free and fair elections in the country.

The visiting US official told a cross section of politicians during a reception at the residence of acting US Ambassador Peter Bodde here Wednesday that he had conveyed to Musharraf that the US believed a free and vibrant media was a prerequisite for free and fair elections in Pakistan.

Without elaborating, Boucher said Musharraf had made "some commitments" on the issues of holding free and fair elections, on his military uniform and war on terrorism and the US believed that he would fulfil them, Dawn said, citing unnamed sources.

Musharraf has been the army chief for the past nine years and in power for eight.

Boucher said the US wanted friendship with the people of Pakistan and not with just an individual.

A section of US think tanks and media have criticised the Bush administration for placing excessive emphasis on a relationship with Musharraf and not on Pakistan, a traditional ally.

Boucher met politicians from the government as well as the opposition parties and sought their views on the ongoing political situation in Pakistan and the forthcoming general elections.

Some opposition leaders told Boucher that free and fair elections were not possible under Musharraf.

They also said that the return of exiled former prime ministers, Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, was also a must to ensure free and fair polls. Boucher is on his third visit to Pakistan this year for periodic consultations between the two sides.

The opposition leaders also drew the attention of the US official towards the large-scale arrests of political activists in the country.

Boucher reiterated his government's commitment to a strong, broad-based relationship with Pakistan.

He held out the assurance when he separately called on Foreign Minister Khurshid Kasuri and Foreign Secretary Riaz Mohammad Khan at the foreign office here.

Their discussions focused on Pakistan-US relations and Afghanistan, according to a statement issued by the foreign office.