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Only credible polls can end Pakistan crisis, says Elizabeth Horst

Only credible polls can end Pakistan crisis, says Elizabeth Horst

UNITED NATIONS: The United States will continue to support credible elections in Pakistan that are free of violence and allow people to decide who rules them, says Elizabeth Horst, the US Deputy Secretary of State Responsible for Pakistan.

Addressing a seminar at One UN Plaza, Ms Horst also urged Pakistan to continue to implement the reforms suggested by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) as that’s the only way to stabilise its ailing economy.

Ms Horst, Ambassador Robin Raphel, a former State Department official, and other scholars made these remarks while addressing a day-long seminar on “Exploring the Pillars of Democracy: US-Pakistan Relations”.

It was a side event of the 78th session of the UN General Assembly and its proceedings were made available to Dawn.

Suggests reforms advised by IMF ‘critical’

Ms Horst, who represented the US administration at the discussion, exp­lained that the departure of US forces from Afghanistan allowed the United States to look at the relationship with Pakistan as what it was, “a bilateral relationship”. This relationship, she added, covered key aspects like economic security and the political situation.

“US remains a supporter of Pakistan’s democracy, but it does not support any particular person or party,” she said while addressing the political side of this relationship.

“We support the people of Pakistan having the right to choose their next government,” she said. “Ambassador (Donald) Blome has delivered this message to all institutions and all parties, and I have delivered the same message.”

Mr Blome, the US ambassador in Islamabad, recently held a series of meetings with Pakistani officials, political leaders and with members of the Election Commission of Pakistan.

“It’s critical that the people get to decide and that political parties are responsive to the people,” Ms Horst said, adding: “We will be continuing to support Pakistan’s democracy, which includes credible elections, according to the country’s laws and the Constitution.”

The elections, she said, should be free of violence, have open competition, and a free media should be allowed to cover the electoral process.

The US officials, however, pointed out that “democracy also goes beyond elections” and that’s why America’s friendship with Pakistan includes having “really strong conversations” about freedom of religion, abuses of the blasphemy law, and minorities’ right to worship without fear. “And that’s an important part of the democratic process,” she added.

The United States, she said, would continue to deliver those messages to Pakistan while remaining “optimist about what the US and Pakistan can do together.”

Ambassador Raphel, who is con­­si­dered Pakistan’s strongest supporter in Washington by the Pakistani American community, said she blames all sides for the current political crisis in the country.

“The vote of no confidence did not work out as planned. The PTI became too cocky and boisterous in its rhetoric and street power and everyone provoked everyone,” she said.

“The result was violent rioting and the destruction of property and then an unprecedented crackdown on democratic norms of freedom of assembly and freedom of speech and rule of law.”

Reforms advised by IMF ‘critical’

Reiterating her point that all sides shared blame for the current state of affairs, she said: “The only way for Pakistan to get out of the deep hole that it now finds itself in is to hold elections and let the people know they will have a voice in choosing who will represent them.”

Talking about the current economic situation in Pakistan, Ms Horst acknowledged that the economy was a big concern for all those interested in Pakistan, although the US “still see(s) a lot of potential” in the country.

She noted that Pakistan has had a long relationship with the IMF, while the current standby agreement with the Fund provided Pakistan “a little breathing room”.

“It’s critical that Pakistan stayed the course,” she said, adding that reforms have always been a part of any arrangement Pakistan has had with the IMF.

“Energy sector reforms, investing in energy infrastructure and widening the tax space, all of those things are very common-sense issues that the IMF has prescribed for Pakistan,” she said. “And the United States stands behind those.”

She noted that Pakistan can win over the confidence of US and other investors only by implementing those reforms.

Pakistan, she said, had extraordinary human talent that can not only revive the national economy but can also contribute to the global economy but without the right business climate, that intellect cannot be tapped.

The US and Pakistan, she said, were already holding a set of economic, defence and security dialogues that “are really setting us again to write a new chapter.”

Avishan Bodjnoud, Chief of the United Nations Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs (DPPA-DPO), urged the global community to “recommit to a vision of a future that ensures no one is left behind,” and that fundamental principles of democracy were followed everywhere.

The programme was announced by the Muslim American Leadership Alliance, an NGO member of the United Nations Economic and Social Council, for “finding a solution to the problems and challenges Pakistan faces today,” and to suggest “how to stabilize the Pakistani economy,” as one of the organisers, Imran Igra said in his speech.

Five points Dawood Ghaznavi, a guest speaker from Pakistan, suggested five points for bringing stability to the country: political stability by following the Constitution, reestablishing a US-Pakistan security pact for fighting cross-border terrorism, building a stronger middle class for strengthening democracy, the rule of law and stronger people-to-people relations between Pakistan and the United States.

Published in Dawn, September 18th, 2023

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