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US report calls for genuine democracy

April 06, 2007

WASHINGTON, April 5: Pakistan’s transition to “a full and functional democracy” is critical to the strength of its long-term relationship with the United States, says an official State Department report released on Thursday.

The report, which details US efforts for promoting democracy and human rights during 2006 and is sent to Congress as an official document, says that “the United States seeks to help build a more participatory, representative and accountable democracy” in Pakistan.

The report also highlights “harassment, intimidation and arrest of journalists” in Pakistan which often leads to ‘self-censorship’.

It blames the government for trying to use “political influence” to curb judicial freedom and for causing the ‘disappearance’ of political activists opposed to its policies, particularly in smaller provinces.

But the point, which is stressed again and again in the chapter on Pakistan, concerns the restoration of “a full and functional democracy” and the holding of free and fair elections.The report says that during 2006, “the United States pushed for democratic and transparent elections in late 2007 or early 2008 general elections”.

The State Department also reveals that last year Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other senior US officials repeatedly raised the importance of democracy in their meetings with Pakistani officials.

“They stressed the importance of holding free, fair and credible elections; allowing political parties to operate; and ensuring no government interference in the process,” the report said.

In another significant reference to the political process in Pakistan, the report notes that President Pervez Musharraf was elected president in a “controversial referendum” in 2002 and that the international community also judged the October 2002 general elections “to be seriously flawed”.

The report also mentions that “all opposition parties boycotted” the 2004 election of Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz because “opposition candidates were not allowed to appear at the assembly after having been convicted of sedition”.

“Opposition parties criticised Mr Aziz’s election and claimed his two elections to the assembly were fraudulent. Domestic and international observers found irregularities but concluded the elections were generally free, fair and credible,” the report adds.

The US also pressed for stronger national and provincial legislatures, increased democratisation and institutional strengthening of political parties and accountability in local governments.

The United States also supported respect for the rule of law by building the capacity of a more professional law enforcement cadre and “promoting an appropriate role for the military”.

JUDICIARY: The report notes that the judiciary in Pakistan was “subject to political influence and corruption, and it lacked public confidence. The High Court was respected and generally acted independently.”

The report was compiled before the current judicial crisis erupted.

HUMAN RIGHTS: The government’s human rights record remained poor with serious concerns, including abuses by security forces such as extrajudicial killings, torture and rape. There were instances when local police acted independently of government authority.

DISAPPEARANCES: The country witnessed an increase in disappearances of provincial activists and political opponents, especially in provinces experiencing internal turmoil and insurgencies.

MEDIA: In Pakistan, harassment, intimidation and arrest of journalists also increased during the year, resulting in self-censorship in media outlets for fear of retribution by government agents.

However, newspapers were free to criticise the government, and most did. Condemnation of government policies and harsh criticism of political leaders and military operations were common.

However, media outlets practiced self-censorship for fear that government agents would engage in retribution against papers and journalists critical of certain governmental policies.

The United States expressed concern over specific disappearance cases and attacks on journalists.

CORRUPTION: Corruption was widespread in the government and police forces, and the government did little to combat the problem.

DOMESTIC VIOLENCE: Domestic violence and abuse against women, such as honour crimes, and discriminatory legislation that affected women and religious minorities remained serious problems. Widespread trafficking in persons and exploitation of indentured, bonded, child labour and worker rights were ongoing problems.