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Musharraf pledges free, fair parliamentary polls

By RIA Novosti

Brussels : Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf, currently on an eight-day visit to Europe, pledged Monday that the country’s Feb 18 parliamentary polls would be “free” and “peaceful”.

The decision to put back parliamentary elections, originally planned for Jan 8, for six weeks followed the assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto Dec 27 and the violent protests that ensued.

“We are determined to hold free, fair and transparent elections, and peaceful elections,” the Pakistani leader said while in Belgium.

“We are for democracy and I have introduced the essence of democracy, but we cannot be as forward looking as you (in the West) are. Allow us some time to reach that state,” he commented.

Last week, European Commissioner for External Relations and European Neighborhood Policy Benita Ferrero-Waldner urged Pakistan to ensure open and peaceful parliamentary elections. The EU official also demanded security guarantees.

European Commission spokesperson Christiana Homan said earlier that the EU observer mission would face the task of giving a comprehensive assessment of the entire election process. She pledged to verify the compliance of the voting process with international democratic standards.

Musharraf’s European trip is to take him to Belgium, France, Switzerland and Britain. He is expected to meet with EU and NATO officials in Brussels.

Concerns have been repeatedly expressed since Bhutto’s December assassination that Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal could fall into the hands of Islamic hard-line groups, backed by the Taliban and Al Qaeda influenced movements.

More clashes were reported Monday in the South Waziristan region of Pakistan, where the Pakistani army killed around 90 militants last Friday.

Coming amid a spate of violence along the Afghan border following Taliban assaults on two army outposts earlier last week, the attacks dealt a serious blow to security forces’ efforts to clear the region of militants.

However, Musharraf has said that any unilateral moves by the US-led coalition forces against militants in the country’s troubled mountainous border region with Afghanistan would be regarded as an invasion.

“I challenge anybody coming into our mountains. They would regret the day,” he told the Straits Times newspaper in early January.

Musharraf has threatened to resign as president if any new government elected following the Feb 18 polls seeks his impeachment.