By Tariq Butt
ISLAMABAD: The United States had warned Pakistan before the 2008 elections not to follow the Egyptian example if outburst of chaos and commotion was to be avoided.
“By holding fair and free parliamentary polls, which should be fundamentally different from the rigged elections in Egypt, this can be achieved. President George Bush faced a lot of embarrassment in the Congress over massive manipulation of elections in Egypt,” Richard Boucher, the then leader of a delegation which visited the Election Commission of Pakistan and advised. “You should eschew even a faint idea of engineering polls; otherwise, trouble may ensue,” Kanwar Dilshad, who was ECP secretary of the time, was advised by senior US diplomats led by Boucher.
Dilshad told The News that the US delegation warned him during a meeting that unrest and anarchy would rule Egypt due to repeated rigging of elections. They said Pakistan might also face such a situation if it resorted to manipulation of electoral process.
Dilshad said the US team told him that Egyptian authorities ignored Washington’s consistent calls to hold fair and free polls so that people could elect a government of their choice without any let or hindrance.
He said President Bush would face intense attack in the Congress if Pakistan did not hold transparent elections. “We want you not to cause any embarrassment to him if you want to have a friend like Bush supporting you.” He said the American delegation forcefully called for the return of Benazir Bhutto and her participation in the elections. They talked about ensuring Nawaz Sharif’s homecoming from exile in a somewhat lukewarm tone, he said.
He said the US team projected the view that elections would not be considered credible and plausible if Benazir Bhutto was forced to stay abroad.
The American delegation, he said, spelt out a number of steps, including deployment of international polls observers and monitoring mechanism to make it a point that the elections were rigging-free.
Dilshad said that the US team told him that Washington had made it clear to all the top Pakistani authorities that there should be no manipulation of elections and these should be held in a way that was acceptable to all key political players. They said if the participating parties did not accept the elections, anarchy might grip Pakistan. After the polls, Dilshad said, the 2008 electoral process was universally hailed by the US, EU and other foreign countries, which expressed complete satisfaction.