Pakistanis lobby U.S. against February elections

Well-known politician Imran Khan argues that reinstating the judiciary is more important.

Mike Theiler/Reuters
Washington DC: Pakistani cricket star turned politician, Imran Khan speaks during a news conference to discuss the current situation in Pakistan at the Amnesty International office, and to argue that reinstating the judiciary in Pakistan is more important than the upcoming elections.

In a nod to America's influence on Pakistani domestic politics, well-known politician Imran Khan spent the past week in Washington and New York speaking with leading policymakers and at public forums.

Mr. Khan, leader of the Pakistan Movement for Justice party and an outspoken critic of American foreign policy toward his country, arrived weeks before elections in Pakistan scheduled for Feb. 18. Many hope the elections can bring stable democracy to Pakistan, a frontline country in America's war on terror that has seen months of violent political unrest.

Khan argued a different perspective from that of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, who is wrapping up a tour through Europe. In an interview with the Monitor, Khan said he came to challenge conventional wisdom in the US. His argument: An election in Pakistan could do more harm than good. Restoring an independent judiciary, rather than holding elections, should be the first goal. The US "should back the democratic process, by insisting on the reinstatement of the judges, rather than back any individual in an election," Khan said.

A majority of the judges from Pakistan's Supreme Court were dismissed when a state of emergency was introduced for seven weeks late last year, after the judiciary began to challenge military rule.

The Justice Party has a minor presence in Pakistan's legislature, but Khan is well-known as the former captain of the Pakistan cricket team and a philanthropist. Formed in 1996 to promote an independent judiciary, the party rode a recent wave of public sentiment in favor of the judiciary.

"We were pleasantly surprised by the bipartisan support for our concerns," says Arif Alvi, the party's vice president. Khan met with Sen. Joe Biden (D) of Delaware, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations committee, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D) of Nevada.

The Justice Party is growing more popular, though a recent poll showed it is far behind other mainstream parties in most of the country. The party is boycotting upcoming elections, which Khan said may worsen problems rather than solve them. Citing Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak, he says, "All of these people are holding elections for years and nothing happens. Elections don't bring democracy."

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