Former Pakistan Prime Ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif should be permitted to return from their exile abroad to take part in next year's general elections, US Ambassador to Islamabad Ryan C Crocker has said.
His remarks came close on the heels of recent assertions by US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice that President Pervez Musharraf should ensure free and fair polls and that the international community would monitor all aspects of polls including the right of the candidates to assemble and campaign.
Both Bhutto and Sharif have a democratic right to come back, Crocker was quoted as saying in Lahore on Thursday by Pakistani daily The Post.
There was no elaboration or confirmation of what Crocker said.
However, 'Online' news agency reported that Crocker termed the issue of return of Bhutto and Sharif as an internal matter of Pakistan.
He said Washington wanted free, fair and transparent elections in Pakistan for the stability of democratic institutions in the country.
"America considers Pakistan a close ally and we also appreciate Pakistan's efforts in war against terrorism," Crocker told the media during his visit to Masjid Wazir Khan in Lahore.
He recalled President George W Bush's comments during his Pakistan visit in March reassuring Musharraf of every support to hold fair and transparent polls in Pakistan.