U.S. presses Pakistan to go ahead with January 8 vote

A013684211.jpgWASHINGTON – The United States expressed concern on Monday about any indefinite postponement of elections in Pakistan after the assassination of Benazir Bhutto and encouraged Islamabad to go ahead with the vote.

“If elections can be held in a safe and secure way, and in a positive way, on January 8, then that’s probably what should happen,” said State Department Deputy Spokesman Tom Casey.

Pakistani electoral officials will decide on Tuesday whether to go ahead with the election next week, but there were expectations it could be delayed by up to two months.

The death of Bhutto, an opposition leader and former prime minister, in a suicide attack on Thursday touched off a wave of violence in Pakistan.

The United States has been involved in efforts to restore democratic government in Pakistan, where President Pervez Musharraf, a pivotal ally in President George W. Bush’s campaign against terrorism, seized control in a military coup in 1999.

Casey said Washington, which had been involved in pushing Pakistan to hold elections, would not object to a short delay if the main parties all agreed or if there were technical barriers to being able to hold the vote on January 8.

“The key here is that there be a date certain for elections in Pakistan,” Casey said. “We would certainly have concerns about some sort of indefinite postponement of the elections.”

The White House also urged a new date be set if there was a delay and said the United States has offered help to Pakistan investigate Bhutto’s death as questions have emerged about whether she was shot or was mortally wounded by hitting her head when a bomb exploded next to her car.

“It’s in the interests of the people of Pakistan that there be a full investigation,” said White House spokesman Scott Stanzel. “And we stand ready to help Pakistan should they request our assistance.”

Washington was instrumental in Bhutto’s return to Pakistan, working to convince Musharraf to give up his role as military chief and accept elections and a power-sharing arrangement with Bhutto.

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