Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf pledged on Monday that next month’s elections will be free and fair and that he will honour the result whoever wins, as he launched a key four-nation European tour.
Musharraf, whose country is in a deep political crisis exacerbated by the assassination of opposition leader Benazir Bhutto, urged the West to allow Pakistan more time to work toward democracy.
“We must have fair and transparent elections,” on February 18, he said in Brussels. “Whoever wins, obviously power will be handed over to them.”
“We are going to be returning to free, fair and transparent elections, and peaceful elections,” he said, despite the slow progress made on the polls.
“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,” he told reporters, non-governmental organisations and business leaders at a breakfast event.
“Allow us some time to reach that state,” he said.
Musharraf acknowledged tensions in Pakistan which could prompt those who lose the elections to cry foul, but he underlined: “Whatever bugs we have had in the system have been removed”.
He also said that the media, which he conceded had been restricted during a six-week state of emergency introduced in November, was free to cover the polls, which had originally been set for January 8.
“I did curb the media when we imposed a state of emergency,” he said, adding that now “there is no limit on their freedom”.
The Pakistani head of state is on an eight-day tour, which will also take him to France, Switzerland and Britain, aimed at buffing his badly tarnished international credibility following months of political chaos at home.
He was to meet EU foreign policy Javier Solana and NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, as well as address the European Parliament’s foreign affairs committee.
Musharraf, in his most important trip abroad since the crisis began, also had trade and defence cooperation talks with Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt.
He is expected to face thorny questions over his commitment to fighting extremism after Bhutto’s assassination, as well as more grilling over the elections.
He and Scheffer are likely to focus on what Pakistan is doing to contain Taliban fighters from using the north of his country as a rear base to fuel the insurgency NATO-led forces are struggling to contain in south Afghanistan.