Musharraf is blocking a free vote
Los Angeles Times
By Asif Ali Zardari

It has been more than a month since my wife, Benazir Bhutto, was assassinated, and little has been done to identify the forces that ordered, planned and funded her murder. The forensic evidence was destroyed almost immediately after the assassination, and though Pervez Musharraf reluctantly allowed Britain’s Scotland Yard to enter the country, its investigation was constrained. Indeed, when Musharraf told Scotland Yard that he would not allow “wild goose chases” to investigate officials in his government and party, the perception of a cover-up permeated Pakistani society.

Sadly, recent polls show that half the people of Pakistan believe that the government was in some way involved in the murder. This uncertainty and cynicism undermines the legitimacy of Pakistan’s government. Only an independent United Nations investigation would have the credibility to uncover the truth.

As Benazir Bhutto so presciently predicted, extremists continue to flourish under the Musharraf regime, with dictatorship fueling the people’s frustration and desperation. Hardly a day goes by without flagrant challenges by terrorists to the government. Suicide bombers continue their reign of terror, beyond the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan into our country and into the very heart of our cities. The government of Pakistan not only is unwilling to mobilize public support in the war against terrorism, it is totally incapable of mobilizing the people.

Indeed, during Musharraf’s recent trip to Europe, he casually admitted that finding Osama bin Laden or his principal deputy, Ayman Zawahiri, thought by many to be hiding in Pakistan, is not a priority for his regime.

Instead of trying to mobilize the people to confront and contain terrorism, Musharraf is spending his time and energy trying to cling to power and rig the Feb. 18 elections. In 2002, Musharraf brazenly rigged parliamentary elections, despite the presence of teams of international election observers, who did not hesitate to condemn the fraud. Yet the silence from Washington and London empowered the despots. If they got away with it in 2002 with the whole world watching, why should they think there will be consequences if they do it again in 2008?

The National Democratic Institute has documented massive pre-election rigging, and the International Republican Institute was sufficiently appalled by the election environment that it pulled out of the country. Both are U.S.-based, nongovernmental organizations. Europe has voiced concern about the election process, and the European Union observers would not legitimize a fraud.

But Washington remains painfully silent. By suggesting that an election under these dreadful conditions can be “good” if not “perfect,” as a senior U.S. State Department official claimed before Congress, many believe that the Bush administration has functionally given Musharraf and his cronies the green light to rig the election — just don’t get caught red-handed.

It is time for the free world to have its policies match its rhetoric. President Bush should join U.S. congressional leaders from both parties in pressing for an independent U.N. investigation of my wife’s murder. The administration should also make clear the minimum standards of a free and fair election in Pakistan that the international community would find acceptable.

Those standards would include an election administered by a neutral caretaker government and independent election commission — one monitored by trained international observers with the authority to conduct exit polls to check on the government’s count, and to make spot, unannounced visits to any polling place. An independent judiciary must be instituted through a bipartisan process. And the restrictions that smother the Pakistani media must be lifted.

I am not asking anyone to guarantee an outcome; neither did my wife. But the Pakistan People’s Party, or PPP, is asking the world to guarantee a free and open process. If the election is free and fair, we believe that our party will be able to establish a broad-based government with other democratic parties to promote national unity and reconciliation. Under such circumstances, the Dawn newspaper in Pakistan stated that the PPP and other democratic parties would win a “sweeping victory” and Musharraf’s party would be marginalized. Yet everyone fears that Musharraf will flagrantly cook the books like he did with impunity in 2002. But the stakes are much higher now. Only a legitimately elected democratic government with a popular mandate can deal with the critical issues facing Pakistan.

Tragically, it is too late for Benazir Bhutto. But it is not too late for the people of Pakistan. Let a democratic and moderate future for Pakistan be my wife’s legacy.

Asif Ali Zardari is the co-chairman of the Pakistan People’s Party.

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