Pakistan verdict a vote for change, democracy: US senators

February 20th, 2008 - 8:56 pm ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Pervez Musharraf

New Delhi, Feb 20 (IANS) The US sees the poll verdict in Pakistan as “a vote for change and a vote against religious parties” and is ready to engage with new leaders, said a team of American senators who flew in here after observing elections in that country.
They also supported an increase in economic assistance to Pakistan to deal with the dangers of extremism and religious radicalism and made a pitch for recasting the US policy on Pakistan based on issues and not personalities.

“People of Pakistan voted for change. People voted against religious parties,” said Senator John Kerry, former US presidential candidate. With fellow Democrat Joseph Biden, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Chuck Hagel, a Republican senator from Nebraska, Kerry was in Pakistan to oversee Monday’s elections.

“This is a critical moment for Pakistan, for India and for the region. What Pakistan does over the next few days is crucial for stability in that country and the region,” he said Wednesday.

“We need to have a stronger policy on Pakistan focused on issues like governance in that country,” Kerry said.

Opposition parties defeated the allies of President Pervez Musharraf in Monday’s National Assembly elections.

The senators, who met Musharraf Tuesday, said he accepted defeat gracefully, telling them that “people have spoken out.”

The Bush administration, which has promoted Musharraf as a moderate leader and key ally in the US-led war on terror, may now have to do think afresh on dealing with the new dispensation in the nuclear-armed country.

The US has welcomed Pakistan’s elections, saying they have been fair and have boosted the prospects for democracy in the country.

Underlining the dangers of extremism in Pakistan, Kerry said the US hoped there would be a reduction in the level of violence and radicalism.

“All of us are concerned about the increasing level of religious radicalism in Pakistan. Some of the choices made by the US have contributed to it,” he said candidly, reflecting the Democrats’ critique of the Bush administration’s policy towards the Pervez Musharraf regime.

“It is up to the Pakistani people. It is their election. It will be wholly inappropriate for us to comment on it. He kept his promise to hold the elections. Imperfect as it is, it’s is credible,” he said when asked whether he thought Musharraf should resign after an overwhelming vote against the Pakistan Muslim League-Q, popularly known as a the King’s Party.

“It’s a historic moment of transformation in Pakistan. There is a peaceful transfer of power. Militancy and extremism have no place in any civilized society,” Kerry stressed.

“We need a Pakistan policy and not a policy based on personalities,” stressed Biden.

“The greatest bulwark against the growth of radicalism is democratic growth. There is a need for a significant increase in the US’ economic assistance to Pakistan. Building more schools and roads are critical elements in the war on terror,” he said.

“It (the results of Pakistan elections) should not be viewed as a loss of support for the common threat of jihad and extremism,” he emphasized.

“We will engage with the next set of leaders in Pakistan. We didn’t elect Musharraf. Terrorism is a problem for all of us,” said Hagel, indicating the US’ readiness to deal with the new leadership in Pakistan.

The United States has supplied over $10 billion of military aid to Pakistan since 2001 to fight Taliban and Al Qaeda militants that have taken shelter along its rugged border with Afghanistan.

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