WASHINGTON, Dec 14: The Bush administration’s reluctance to support the demand for the restoration of pre-emergency judiciary in Pakistan may hurt its efforts to fight terrorism in that region, warns Hina Jilani, a United Nations human rights envoy.

“We need an independent judiciary and a free media,” she said while praising the role the two institutions played before Nov 3 in promoting accountability and public awareness.

Ms Jilani’s advocacy for judicial independence prompted Congressman Trent Franks, a member of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus, to endorse her demand. “The US government should support the demand for the restoration of (pre-emergency) judiciary,” he said.

Congressman James P. Moran, another member of the caucus, also agreed with Ms Jilani that without a free judiciary the forthcoming elections “will not be an open and fair democratic process.”

Congresswoman Sheila Jackson-Lee, who chairs the Pakistan Caucus on Capitol Hill, did not directly endorse the demand but said it was important that President Pervez Musharraf restored constitutional rule in his country.

Medea Benjamin, a member of the Codepink peace movement, raised the issue of the US military aid to Pakistan. Ms Benjamin was deported last week from Pakistan where she and another Codepink member picketed outside Aitzaz Ahsan’s residence.

The US lawmakers, however, were reluctant to back the demand for restricting military aid, insisting that this was linked to the larger issue of fighting terrorism. “We have to see whether that would be the best thing for Pakistan and their battle against Al Qaeda,” said Congressman Franks. “We do not want to make it harder on them than it already is.”

But Ms Jilani warned that the United States’s one-point agenda that puts the war on terror above all other concerns was hurting its image abroad. “We can fight terrorism; that is not a problem,” she said. “But we have to build institutions.”

Ms Jilani rejected the impression that the judiciary was dismissed because it had released terror suspects. “They did not release a single terror suspect,” she said. “All they were saying was that intelligence agencies cannot keep people in illegal custody for months and years, sometimes without even informing their immediate families.”

The judiciary, she said, was only trying to restore the rule of law in a country where intelligence agencies follow no rules.

When some US lawmakers sought her opinion on the prospect of monitoring the Jan 8 elections, she said: “There is no point in monitoring the elections or watching the poll -- the rigging has already happened.”

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