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Pakistan: Bush Should Urge End to Military Rule

Pakistan: Bush Should Urge End to Military Rule

Musharraf Must Not Delay or Manipulate 2007 Elections

(New York) – U.S. President George Bush should press his Pakistani counterpart, General Pervez Musharraf, to step down as army chief, hold free and fair elections, and restore civilian rule in Pakistan, Human Rights Watch said today. President Bush is scheduled to visit Pakistan this week.

Since seizing power in a 1999 coup, General Musharraf has arbitrarily amended the Pakistani constitution to strengthen the power of the presidency, marginalize elected representatives, and formalize the role of the army in government. Though the Pakistani constitution prohibits the chief of the army from holding political office, Musharraf has remained as army chief and president, and has reneged on a public promise to cede one of the posts by December 2004. Recent public statements by Pakistani government officials indicate that he now intends to delay national elections for a year and hold on to both posts beyond 2007.

“Turning a blind eye to Musharraf’s ongoing power grab undermines the Bush administration’s aim of fostering democracy in the Muslim world,” said Brad Adams, director of the Asia division at Human Rights Watch. “President Bush must tell Musharraf that he can no longer count on U.S support to subvert the Pakistani constitution and block genuine elections.”

The Pakistani military continues to exercise tight control over both the judiciary and the ruling party in the national assembly, and military-backed civilian politicians have repeatedly stated in recent months that Musharraf may stay on as army chief and as president beyond the date set for elections in 2007. They have also suggested that he can be “re-elected” president by the outgoing parliament, which may unilaterally extend its term by one year to 2008 in order to do so. On February 14, the Pakistani Supreme Court’s acting chief justice suggested that postponing the elections would be lawful.

“Statements from pro-government politicians appear to be setting the stage for Musharraf’s continued rule past 2007,” said Adams. “The United States should not be a silent spectator and allow Musharraf to exploit his alliance with the U.S. in the ‘war on terror’ to entrench himself further in power.”

Human Rights Watch noted that the military is Pakistan’s leading violator of human rights. Under Musharraf, military impunity for abuses has increased dramatically. These abuses include extrajudicial killings, torture, arbitrary arrests, and the persecution of political opponents. In April 2004 the president of an opposition party, Makhdoom Javed Hashmi, of the Alliance for the Restoration of Democracy, was sentenced to 23 years in prison for reading out an anti-Musharraf letter to assembled journalists. He remains in prison.

“The military’s rampant abuses and Musharraf’s refusal to cede power demonstrate that the human rights of Pakistanis can only be protected by a genuine civilian government,” said Adams. “On his visit to Pakistan, President Bush must tell Musharraf just that.”

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