The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Pleased with polls, Pervez pacifies US

Istanbul, Oct. 13 (Agencies): Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf said today he expected a post-election government to be “very healthy” and that no problems would stem from the success of Islamic parties.

Musharraf said the country would remain committed to helping Washington’s war on “terror”. “Pakistan is and will remain a key member of the coalition against international terror,” he said.

“I think we had very transparent, very good elections, problem-free, and we will probably have a very healthy government in Pakistan,” Musharraf told reporters on his arrival in Istanbul for a regional economic summit.

The European Union, which observed the election, was highly critical of the military’s tactics, which it said included supporting the party closest to Musharraf.

A party loyal to Musharraf led the way but was well short of an overall majority in the election designed to restore civilian rule after a 1999 military coup.

Hardline Islamic parties opposed to the US role in Afghanistan made surprising gains in the election, potentially giving them the balance of power in any coalition.

Musharraf said religious parties had played a role in Pakistan politics for decades.

Asked whether religious parties would take part in the new government or in the Opposition, he said: “According to the laws, according to the seats, they will take part and no problem. In Pakistan, we have always had the same religious parties in coalition in the government.”

He also repeated his allegation that the elections in Kashmir were “farcical”.

In Islamabad, the Pakistan government stoutly defended its electoral process, saying the EU mission’s conclusion is “unfortunate and not true”.

“This is just not true. There was no such policy or plan. In fact, the President of Pakistan had extended his personal pledge to the fairness and transparency of the electoral process and ensured the election observers, as well as the foreign media, were provided full and unfettered access to any part of the country,” an official statement said.

On the EU monitor’s allegations that Musharraf “imposed serious restriction on campaign activities” together with the commissioner of Islamabad, it said “equating the President with a local official in promulgation of laws is ridiculous”.

The rise of the religious Right has raised concern in the West that it could hamper the hunt for al Qaida and Taliban militants along Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan.

But Pakistani information minister Nisar Memon said foreign policy would not change as a result of the election. “The world should understand that these are Islamic parties, not fundamentalists, and no single party can change Pakistan’s foreign policy,” he said.

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