Excerpts from press reports about the planned (then postponed) 2007-year-end Pakistan election and the assassination of top opposition candidate Benazir Bhutto.
By SALMAN MASOOD and CARLOTTA GALL, New York Times 3 October 2007, Islamabad
Gen. Pervez Musharraf on Tuesday appointed a close ally and a former intelligence chief to succeed him as Pakistan's military chief. He announced an amnesty law to remove all corruption cases against the former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, as he made the final arrangements to secure his re-election as president on Saturday.
Opposition parties, meanwhile, intensified their campaign against General Musharraf's re-election, filing new legal challenges against his eligibility in the Supreme Court. At the same time, more than 80 legislators resigned from the National Assembly, and almost as many others resigned from provincial assemblies.
The president is elected by the national and provincial assemblies. While the resignations will not invalidate the electoral process, the opposition parties are hoping that they will undermine the legitimacy of the vote, which General Musharraf is expected to win.
General Musharraf promoted two men, both considered loyalists, and their appointments were widely expected as his first steps to lay the foundations of his next five-year term.
Lt. Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kiani, the head of the powerful Inter-Services Intelligence, was promoted to general and appointed vice chief of army staff, according to a statement released by the Pakistani military.
He will assume the top army post – currently held by General Musharraf – when that office is vacated, the statement said. General Musharraf has promised to resign as army chief if re-elected. General Kiani's appointment will be effective on Monday, the statement said.
Lt. Gen. Tariq Majeed, who was also promoted to general, was appointed chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, a largely ceremonial post.
General Kiani, a graduate of the Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, in Kansas, and the National Defense College in Islamabad, led the Inter-Services Intelligence, the country's main intelligence agency, from 2004 until last month.
He has been in the forefront of counterterrorism efforts in Pakistan. He also played an important role in investigating two assassination attempts by Al Qaeda operatives on General Musharraf in 2003.
Recently, it was General Kiani who negotiated with Ms. Bhutto to work out an agreement that would allow General Musharraf to continue as president and her to return to politics. General Kiani served as the deputy military secretary to Ms. Bhutto during her first tenure as prime minister.
Despite continuing denials from the government and Ms. Bhutto that they have reached a power-sharing agreement, it is clear the two sides are cooperating. Ms. Bhutto's party did not take part in the mass resignation from Parliament to protest General Musharraf's bid for re-election.
Two government ministers said Tuesday that the government was preparing a law that would give Ms. Bhutto and her husband, Asif Zardari, amnesty from all pending corruption and money laundering cases. Ms. Bhutto has been sentenced in absentia in some completed cases and may risk arrest on her return, set for Oct. 18.
She has been demanding a general amnesty for political leaders dating to 1988 and the scrapping of a ban on prime ministers running for a third term. General Musharraf needs the participation of her Pakistan Peoples Party in the election so it is not seen as being completely robbed of legitimacy.
Ms. Bhutto appears to have complied by fielding a candidate from her party and not joining the opposition boycott. At the same time, that candidate, Makhdoom Amin Fahim, filed a new challenge in the Supreme Court on Tuesday against General Musharraf's running for election in uniform.
The opposition leaders of the All Parties Democratic Movement marched to the National Assembly this morning along with their supporters, who carried flags and chanted slogans against General Musharraf.
"We think General Pervez Musharraf is not acceptable to the nation, with or without the military uniform," said Liaqut Baloch, an opposition leader, after resigning. He said he hoped that the Supreme Court's chief justice, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, would order a postponement of the election when he considered new challenges filed by two other candidates.
Both have challenged the validation of President Musharraf's nomination papers by the election commission and are asking that the election be stayed, lawyers said. Mr. Chaudhry accepted the petitions and impaneled nine justices to hear them.
Salman Masood reported from Islamabad, and Carlotta Gall from Kabul, Afghanistan.
Christian Science Monitor Reporter Suzanna Koster interviews the cricket star turned politician on why he thinks boycotting parliamentary elections will help restore democracy to Pakistan.
Stephen Graham Associated Press Islambad 14 Dec 2007
Less than a month before Pakistan's election, the opposition is already claiming it will be rigged, pointing to a stacked judiciary, media intimidation and ballot papers that have allegedly been pre-marked.
A flawed election could dash Western hopes for a stable government committed to battling Islamic extremism... President Pervez Musharraf – determined to show that he is sincere about bringing democracy to Pakistan – has tried to blunt the opposition's criticism by promising to lift a state of emergency ahead of the Jan. 8 vote...
"There is no level playing field," said Sarwar Bari, head of the Free and Fair Election Network, a Pakistani nongovernment group, which has more than 270 people monitoring the run-up to the vote.
"Everything this regime wanted to do has already been done for its rigging plan," Senator Raza Rabbani said.
Bhutto's party, the largest opposition group, has accused the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Q of distributing thousands of ballot papers marked in its favor to ensure victory in Punjab province, Pakistan's largest and the key to national power.
It also claims that polling stations in opposition strongholds will be shifted at the last moment to effectively disenfranchise legions of voters.
Musharraf has dismissed the claims, accusing the opposition of girding against defeat.
"We haven't even gone for elections and they are talking of rigging and everything," Musharraf told CNN last weekend. "This is a clear indication of their preparation for defeat. Now when they lose, they'll have a good rationale, that it is all rigged, it is all fraud."
By Saeed Shah, McClatchy Newspapers, 31 Dec 2007, Naudero Pakistan
The day she was assassinated last Thursday, Benazir Bhutto had planned to reveal new evidence alleging the involvement of Pakistan's intelligence agencies in rigging the country's upcoming elections, an aide said Monday.
Bhutto had been due to meet U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., and Rep. Patrick Kennedy, D-R.I., to hand over a report charging that the military Inter-Services Intelligence agency was planning to fix the polls in the favor of President Pervez Musharraf.
Safraz Khan Lashari, a member of the Pakistan People's Party election monitoring unit, said the report was "very sensitive" and that the party wanted to initially share it with trusted American politicians rather than the Bush administration, which is seen here as strongly backing Musharraf.
"It was compiled from sources within the (intelligence) services who were working directly with Benazir Bhutto," Lashari said, speaking Monday at Bhutto's house in her ancestral village of Naudero, where her husband and children continued to mourn her death.
The ISI had no official comment. However, an agency official, speaking only on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to speak on the subject, dismissed the allegations as "a lot of talk but not much substance."
Musharraf has been highly critical of those who allege that his regime is involved in electoral manipulation. "Now when they lose, they'll have a good rationale: that it is all rigged, it is all fraud," he said in November. "In Pakistan, the loser always cries."
According to Lashari, the document includes information on a "safe house" allegedly being run by the ISI in a central neighborhood of Islamabad, the alleged headquarters of the rigging operation.
It names as the head of the unit a brigadier general recently retired from the ISI, who was secretly assigned to run the rigging operation, Lashari said. It charges that he was working in tandem with the head of a civilian intelligence agency. Before her return to Pakistan, Bhutto, in a letter to Musharraf, had named the intelligence official as one of the men she accused of plotting to kill her.
Lashari said the report claimed that U.S. aid money was being used to fix the elections. Ballots stamped in favor of the Pakistan Muslim League-Q, which supports Musharraf, were to be produced by the intelligence agencies in about 100 parliamentary constituencies.
"They diverted money from aid activities. We had evidence of where they were spending the money," Lashari said.
Lashari, who formerly taught environmental economics at Britain's Cranfield University, said the effort was directed at constituencies where the result was likely to be decided by a small margin, so it wouldn't be obvious.
Bhutto was due to meet Specter and Kennedy after dinner last Thursday. She was shot as she left an election rally in Rawalpindi early that evening. Pakistan's government claims instead that she was thrown against the lever of her car's sunroof, fracturing her skull.
(Shah is a McClatchy special correspondent.)
Simon Gardner, Reuters, 1 January 2008, Karachi
Benazir Bhutto was poised to reveal proof that Pakistan's election commission and shadowy spy agency were seeking to rig an upcoming general election the night she was assassinated, a top aide said on Tuesday.
Senator Latif Khosa, who authored a 160-page dossier with Bhutto documenting rigging tactics, said they ranged from intimidation to fake ballots, and were in some cases unwittingly funded by U.S. aid.
Bhutto had been due to give the report to two visiting U.S. lawmakers over dinner on Dec. 27, the day she was killed in a suicide bombing.
"The state agencies are manipulating the whole process," Khosa, a top Bhutto aide and head of her Pakistan People's Party election monitoring unit, told Reuters.
"There is rigging by the ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence), the election commission and the previous government, which is still continuing to hold influence. They were on the rampage."
President Pervez Musharraf's spokesman Rashid Qureshi dismissed the claim as "ridiculous".
"It makes one laugh," he said. "The president has said a free, fair, transparent and peaceful election is essential, which forms part of his overall strategy for transforming Pakistan into a fully democratic (nation)."
"Benazir's coming back to Pakistan was part of a national reconciliation ordinance," he added. "Take it from me, it's going to be perhaps the best election that Pakistan has ever had."
Khosa said the report, entitled 'Yet another stain on the face of democracy', details how the spy agency was planning to issue 25,000 pre-stamped ballots for each of 108 candidates for national assembly seats in Punjab from the party that backs President Musharraf and formed his government.
"They have used intimidatory tactics, they intimidated the returning officers into rejecting nomination papers ... they prevented candidates from submitting their nomination papers," Khosa said.
"This happened in Baluchistan and in the other central areas of Pakistan. It happened in Sindh."
He said the ISI also had a "mega computer" which could hack into any computer and was connected to the Election Commission's system.
Separately the commission had tried to manipulate the voting register by leaving millions of potential voters out, he added.
An initial draft list of voters published in June put the electorate at 52 million people, more than 20 million short, triggering a backlash from Musharraf's politial opponents.
The Supreme Court ordered the commission to revise the list, and in October it raised the total to 80 million.
"The Election Commission is completely subservient to the government," Khosa said.
In the Election Commission's case, U.S. financial aid had been used in rigging, he added, stressing however he did not believe it was diverted military aid.
"She was going to give the dossier to two U.S. lawmakers simply because they happened to be visiting. It was then going to be made public," Khosa said.
"Benazir was supposed to hold a press conference. It was going to be distributed to everyone, but unfortunately that did not arise because she was assassinated." (Editing by Roger Crabb)
VOA News 1 January 2008 based on AFP, Reuters, and AP.
An aide to Benazir Bhutto says the Pakistani opposition leader had planned to release proof of vote-rigging on the night of her assassination.
Latif Khosa, a senator from the opposition Pakistan People's Party, said Tuesday Ms. Bhutto was to unveil the 160-page document at a press conference last Thursday night, after giving it to two visiting U.S. lawmakers.
She was assassinated in a shooting and suicide bomb attack Thursday afternoon.
Khosa said he wrote the report titled "Yet Another Stain on The Face of Democracy" which presents evidence of vote-rigging ahead of the upcoming parliamentary elections. The document has not been released.
He says the document shows Pakistan's main spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence, was working with the election commission and Pakistan's ruling party to fix the results of the polls.
Khosa also says U.S. financial assistance was being misused to rig the outcome.
Ms. Bhutto's party and her husband Asif Ali Zardari are demanding an independent, international inquiry into the opposition leader's death.
1 January 2008 - London - ANI via http://www.thaindian.com/newsportal/south-asia
Benazir Bhutto was scheduled to meet two senior American politicians to show them a confidential report that suggested that Pakistans intelligence service was using US money to rig parliamentary elections.
According to officials of Bhuttos Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), the report was to be shown on the day she was assassinated (December 27). It was alleged that the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) was running the election operation from a safe house in Islamabad and the aim was to undermine the PPP and ensure victory for the Pakistan Muslim League (Q) party, which supports President Musharraf.
The Times said that Rhode Island Democratic Party Congressman Patrick Kennedy and Republican member of the Senate sub-committee on foreign operations, Arlen Specter have confirmed that they were planning to have dinner with Bhutto on Thursday evening, but were not available for comment yesterday.
Sarfraz Ali Lashari, a senior PPP official who works in its election monitoring cell, told The Times that he had helped to compile a 200-page report on the Governments efforts to rig the poll, which Bhutto planned to give to the Americans and to the press the day she was killed. But there is another report relating to the ISI and she was going to discuss it with them, said Lashari, an environmental economist who taught at Cranfield University for several years.
The second report, which Bhutto did not plan to release to the media, alleged that the ISI was using some of the 10 billion dollars in US military aid that Pakistan has received since 2001 to run a covert election operation from a safe house in G5, a central district of Islamabad, he said.
The report was done by some people who we've got in the services. They directly dealt with Benazir Bhutto, he said, adding that Bhutto was planning to share the contents of the report with the British Ambassador Robert Brinkley and the US lawmakers.
Asif Ali Zardari, Bhuttos husband and the new co-chairman of the PPP, confirmed the existence of the report, its basic contents and his wifes plans to meet the US lawmakers last Thursday. Asked if such a report was in his possession, he said: Something to that effect.
The allegation is likely to fuel the already intense speculation surrounding the death, which triggered nationwide riots and raised fears that President Musharraf could reimpose emergency rule and postpone the elections.
Electoral fraud is nothing new in Pakistan, which has been led by military rulers for more than half of its 60-year history, and whose politics is dominated by feudal and tribal loyalties.
Lashari, the PPP official, said that Bhutto wanted to share the report with them because she did not entirely trust the US Government, which still regards President Musharraf as a key ally in the War on Terror. (ANI)
Trudy Rubin, Philadelphia Inquirerand later the Hartford Courant, 6 Jan 2008
Americans are focused this week on the presidential primaries, but an election campaign halfway around the world will have enormous impact on their lives.
I refer to elections in Pakistan, from which I just returned after a sobering two weeks. Pakistan just deferred its ballot from Jan. 8 to Feb. 18, after the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. Her country has become the key sanctuary for al-Qaida and Taliban forces, along with other jihadis trying to seize control of portions of a nation that has nukes.
Having visited both Iraq and Pakistan in December, I can say without hesitation that the latter is now the scarier of the two. The Bush administration needs to rethink its Pakistan policy quickly – or watch the threat increase.
The U.S. policy of unqualified support for Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has got to change.
U.S. officials had been encouraging Musharraf to share power with Bhutto. Musharraf had promised U.S. officials he would rescind constitutional provisions that banned her from a third prime ministerial term. He double-crossed Washington – and her – by failing to do so; instead, he declared martial law in November and threw most of Pakistan's leading judges in jail.
The Pakistani president claimed that martial law was necessary to fight Islamist militants. They have been setting off record numbers of suicide bombs in Pakistani cities and expanding their bases outward from sanctuaries along the Afghan border.
In reality, martial law was meant to let Musharraf hold on to presidential power. Indeed, the militants' strength had been multiplying on Musharraf's watch, in part because of his political alliance with Islamist parties who enabled the jihadis. The Pakistani president never made clear to his public the danger that Islamist militants presented.
Only Bhutto had the guts to challenge the widespread belief that the fight against Islamists was America's war, and to proclaim that this fight was necessary for Pakistan's survival. With Bhutto's death, there is little reason to believe Musharraf will wage the struggle against the Islamists with more vigor.
If, as looks likely, the delayed elections are blatantly rigged, Pakistan could implode.
Anger had already been mounting against the Pakistani leader before Bhutto's death, because of the assault on the judges, and because of perceived corruption in the military. That anger has exploded because government officials provided inadequate security for Bhutto, gave contradictory stories about how she died, and intimidated witnesses. Musharraf blamed "terrorists" for the murder, but many Pakistanis blame the government.
Free and fair elections might offer some prospect of assuaging the country's anger – and leaving the army free to tackle the militants.
But Musharraf can't afford such an outcome.
In a fair vote, the two opposition parties together would probably sweep to victory against Musharraf's party – despite the polling delay. If the opposition gained a two-thirds majority, they could boot him from his presidential office. That's why everybody expects that the vote will be fixed.
Even before her death, Bhutto had charged rigging. A close Bhutto adviser, Husain Haqqani, outlined some of the techniques, including suppression of voter registration, election commissions that refuse to implement the rules, thugs enrolled as election police and ghost polling places where fraudulent ballots could be cast in bulk.
The White House may be tempted to let Musharraf retain power on the grounds that only he can preserve stability and fight against militancy.
Yet that scenario died with Bhutto. Musharraf's credibility is shot, and blatant poll-rigging guarantees continuing instability. This is why the United States, in concert with other nations, should exert every pressure on Musharraf to ensure elections are fair. Best would be a caretaker government of national consensus and new election commissions.
Minimally, the White House must insist on full rights for international election observers. A push for an international investigation into Bhutto's death (beyond the assistance of Scotland Yard) would also be wise.
This is not a question of American interference into Pakistan's internal affairs. Pakistani elections will shape the effort to stabilize a nuclear-armed country where terrorists are deepening their hold. They are the world's concern and yours – as crucial to our future as Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire polls.
The Hindu, 5 Jan 2008
London (PTI): Describing Pakistan as "the world's most dangerous place", a leading British journal has claimed that two things could still help arrest its slide into anarchy – a credible investigation into Benazir Bhutto's murder and a fair election but both seem improbable.
The Economist noted that Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf's willingness to let a couple of British policemen help the inquiry "is unlikely to produce this" (help arrest its slide into anarchy)...
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, 6 January 2008, Washington
Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf claims he is the foremost ally of the United States. Certainly he is a major recipient of Washington's largess. And with equal certainty he is the most frightening of friends.
Enemies can be more easily understood. The reasons that Musharraf scares many people are complex.
First, he makes deals with his enemies that he believes are secret.
Second, he denies that any deals have been made, which adds to his enemy list.
Third, he believes that he can rely on his Western allies for continual financial and military aid. And he appears to believe that his neighbor India – a huge non-Muslim country that his military dismisses as "cow worshipers" – lacks the will and ability to move against Pakistan.
Why would India be a threat? Throughout the major cities of Pakistan – Islamabad and Karachi in particular – there are large communities of Indians, second- and third-generation families that have never returned to India since partition more than 50 years ago.
In a time of civil disorder, Indians are at risk for their homes, their goods and their lives. With a major part of the Asian subcontinent – from Myanmar to Bangladesh, through Pakistan to Afghanistan and Thailand – in a revolting-mode, India will not remain aloof from the pain of seeing blood relatives bombed, burned, raped and killed by Muslim fanatics.
It is a tinderbox waiting to be struck into a nuclear explosion. Why nuclear? Both Pakistan and India have small nuclear arsenals together with intercontinental ballistic missiles available capable of eliminating each other's cities. Talking to Indian and Pakistani military strategists recently, it was learned that both countries believed they could survive a "first strike."
Pakistan, because its true economy is agricultural, and if the huge city of Karachiwere were eliminated, it would make the country as a whole much more governable.
The same goes for India. Its military expects a Pakistani attack on the port city of Mumbai (once known as Bombay) and on the capital city of Delhi. But the government already has its evacuation plan in place and is ready to run hard and fast and, perhaps, fight another day.
But the real menace from Pakistan is in three letters: "ISI," which represent the initials of Inter-Services Intelligence.
The ISI has been deeply involved in domestic politics of Pakistan since the late 1950s. In 1990, it rigged the elections against Benazir Bhutto, assassinated on Dec. 27, by using parties controlled by the ISI's director, Lt. Gen. Hamid Gul, to ensure her defeat.
Gul has denied that the vote was rigged. But as a fanatical Muslim, he always had been her enemy. She was an intelligent, courageous woman; she believed that women should have a role in government. Educated at Harvard and Oxford, she admired American and British values and would never forgive the Pakistani military for its role in the hanging of her father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, or for imprisoning her when she was 24, subsequently forcing her into exile in Europe.
Gul always complained that Benazir referred to his friends the strict mullahs as "stupid old fools with long gray beards."
Gul worked with the United States in recruiting "freedom fighters" against the Russians in Afghanistan, becoming, and probably remaining, a patron of Osama bin Laden. Now retired, he believes that his country was used by the United States against the Russians and is said to have taken bin Laden to secret meetings with an earlier prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, and also Musharraf.
Gul was placed under house arrest in September 2007. But when the Saudi Arabian royal family – fellow members of the Wahhabi sect – demanded his release, it was immediate.
At the same time, Nawaz Sharif – Benazir's opponent and Gul's friend, corrupt, autocratic and exiled to Saudi Arabia – had, at the Arabs' demand, his exile lifted and returned to Pakistan to campaign against Benazir.
What does the Saudi Arabian royal family want? Pakistan's nuclear weapons – the Islamic Bomb – before the Iranians get theirs bomb off the drawing board.
Let's not forget that Iranians are not Arabs and believe in a variant of Islam – detested by the Wahhabis – and are seen by the Saudis as a threat to their oil economy, their way of life and their religion.
We may never know the truth about the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, but in answering the question "Who benefits?," the answer is loud and clear:
Hamid Gul, Nawaz Sharif and the "royals" of Saudi Arabia. And, of course, Pervez Musharraf, who refused to ensure Benazir's security and was so afraid for himself.
NY Times front page 15 Jan 2008, by Carlotta Gall & David Rohde
"One former senior Pakistani intelligence official, as well as other people close to the [ISI Pakistan intelligence] agency, acknowledged that the ISI led the effort to manipulate Pakistan's last national election in 2002 - and offered to drop corruption cases against officials who'd back Musharraf" [a second way to manipulate politics via the judiciary &ndsh; reason why important judiciary be an independent branch of government].
But the Times has one source "close to" the ISI who claims this time (2008) they aren't planning on rigging it.
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