Musharraf promises ‘peaceful vote’

Pakistan president’s comments in Davos come as police disperse protesters at home.

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf

Both Karzai, left, and Musharraf spoke of the ‘scourge of terrorism’ [Reuters]

Pakistan’s president has cautioned world leaders at Davos, Switzerland, against judging Pakistan by “misconceived” standards of Western democracy, while in Pakistan, riot police have used tear gas and batons to disperse hundreds of protesters.

Pervez Musharraf made his comments at the World Economic Forum, the annual gathering of the world’s political and business leaders, on Thursday.

He also vowed to crack down on any attempt to disrupt the February 18 polls, rescheduled after the assassination in December of Benazir Bhutto, the opposition politician.

“Obviously, the elections must be fair, free and transparent,” Musharraf said. “And I’ve added a new word – ‘peaceful’. We will make sure they are peaceful.”

‘Democracy and human rights’

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Musharraf declined to say whether he would be prepared to reinstate ousted supreme court judges to rule on any possible complaint of electoral fraud in the February polls.

Instead, he asked world leaders to “judge economic performance, the welfare of people and political stability” in Pakistan.

“Please don’t judge [us] on maybe unrealistic Western perceptions of democracy and human rights.”

Musharraf, who took power in a military coup in 1999, imposed emergency rule in November 2007 to dismissed judges who appeared set to annul his re-election by parliament to a second five-year term.

Limits on civil rights remain in effect in Pakistan, despite a formal end to the crackdown last month.

Protest in Pakistan

Earlier on Thursday, in Islamabad, the Pakistani capital, around 400 people gathered to march to the house of Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, the chief justice sacked by Musharraf.

In Islamabad, anti-Musharraf protesters
were dispersed by police on Thursday [AFP]

The protesters tried to break through a police barricade outside the Marriott Hotel, which is near Chaudhry’s house, but were forced back by baton-wielding police who then fired tear gas, the AFP news agency reported.

With the simmering crisis in Pakistan, Musharraf’s attendance at Davos moved the focus of the second day of the conference away from talk about a looming US recession.

On Wednesday, Musharraf held talks with Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state, the highest-level US contact with the president since Bhutto’s assassination.

The administration of George Bush, the US president, has come under pressure from the US congress to cut aid to Pakistan, or at least impose restrictions linking democratic reform to funding levels.

Afghan appeal

Also in attendance at Davos, alongside Musharraf, was Hamid Karzai, the president of neighbouring Afghanistan.

Karzai spoke of the “business” of suicide bombings, making a plea for a global, co-ordinated campaign to rid his region of the “scourge of terrorism”.

“It isn’t religious. It is criminal. Criminal beyond imagination and control,” Karzai said.

He spoke of how fighters target drug addicts and the poor, to recruit potential suicide bombers.

“It has nothing to do with Islam. Nothing at all,” he said.

Source: News Agencies