Islamabad, Oct. 9 (Reuters): Pakistan President General Pervez Musharraf, speaking on the eve of a general election which is to usher in civilian rule, said today that the country stood on the threshold of a “new democratic era”.
Musharraf, who took power in a bloodless coup three years ago, has vowed to oversee the transition from military to civilian government, but his political rivals and Western observers accuse him of manipulating the polls in his favour. “We are at the crossroads of history and about to start a new democratic era,” he said in an address to the nation, broadcast on state television and radio. “So vote diligently.”
Musharraf, in uniform and speaking Urdu, repeated his commitment to hold a free and fair election and transfer power to the new Prime Minister.
“Another assurance that I want to give you is that I will transfer full executive powers to the Prime Minister and then I will give up the post of the chief executive,” Musharraf said.
But he added: “I also want to say that one power I shall always keep, about which there will be no compromise, and that is the solidarity and survival of Pakistan and the running of government free from corruption and dishonesty.” His comments indicate the uneasy path political analysts say Musharraf is seeking to tread between nurturing democracy, avoiding the fractious politics of the past and maintaining strong control over the nation.
Musharraf has effectively barred key opponents from running for Parliament and has enhanced his powers through constitutional amendments introduced soon after he extended his rule by five years in a controversial referendum. He referred to the “sham democracy” of recent years in Pakistan which “had taken the nation towards ruin”.
It was an apparent reference to the governments of former Prime Ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, which argued bitterly and swapped power twice during the 1980s and 1990s.
Both ex-premiers are living in exile and both are accused by Musharraf of corruption.
UK alert to citizens
Britain has advised its citizens to be extra vigilant in Pakistan ahead of tomorrow’s general election amid fears of an escalation in violence, particularly aimed at Western targets, during the voting.
A spokesman for the foreign office said Britain had for the past several months advised its citizens not to travel to Pakistan unless there was a “compelling reason” to do so and where the traveller “has confidence in the security arrangements for the entire visit”.
But now the advice has been stepped up to warn Britons already in Pakistan to be extra vigilant. “Basically we are saying to people to be on their guard and to be aware of the potential for risk,” the spokesman said.
The foreign office website says: “There is a significant threat from terrorism to visibly Western institutions and individuals, particularly in major urban areas,” in a statement dated October 8.
“The elections on 10 October are likely to increase the levels of tension. They may also offer an opportunity to extremist groups to mount attacks, including against Westerners.”
Attacks on Western and Christian targets this year killed more than 60 people, most of them Pakistanis.
Much of the violence has been blamed on militant Islamic groups angered by Pakistan’s backing for the US-led “war on terror”.
The foreign office said it advised nationals other than those of Pakistani origin “to leave Pakistan unless they have a compelling reason to stay and unless they also have confidence in their security arrangements”.
Britain last advised its citizens to leave Pakistan in June, when tensions with nuclear rival India over the disputed Kashmir region were at their height.
Tensions between the neighbouring states have since eased, although the sides continue to trade jibes and accusations of sponsoring violence on each other’s territory.