US lawmakers urge President Biden to withhold ‘recognition’ of Pakistan’s new Govt until ‘credible’ poll rigging probe is conducted

WASHINGTON, Mar 1: Citing “strong evidence” of election rigging in Pakistan, a group of influential lawmakers, including Muslim legislators, belonging to the ruling Democratic Party has urged US President Joe Biden to withhold “recognition” of a new government in Islamabad until a transparent and credible investigation is conducted.
The February 8 general election, marred by allegations of widespread rigging, in Pakistan, resulted in a hung Parliament with independent candidates backed by jailed former prime minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party winning more than 90 seats at the 266-member National Assembly. Ex-premier Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N bagged 75 seats and former foreign minister Bilawal Bhutto’s PPP got 54 seats. The Muttahida Qaumi Movement Pakistan (MQM-P) won 17 seats.
In a joint letter to President Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken, the lawmakers expressed concerns about “pre- and post-poll rigging in Pakistan’s recent parliamentary elections” and urged the US Congress to “withhold recognition of a new government in Pakistan until a thorough, transparent, and credible investigation of election interference has been conducted”.
Islamabad is a long-standing ally of Washington and it is in the interest of the US to ensure that democracy thrives in Pakistan and that election results reflect the interests of the Pakistani people, not the interests of the Pakistani elite and military, the letter sent on Wednesday said.
Since the election resulted in a hung Parliament, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) have struck a post-poll deal along with four other parties to form a coalition government, which may effectively end Khan’s chances of returning to power. A party must win 133 out of 265 contested seats in the 266-member National Assembly to form a government.
PTI has rejected the attempts by the PML-N and the PPP to form a coalition government, warning that robbing its public endorsement by the “mandate thieves” will result in the worst political instability.
“Given the strong evidence of pre- and post-poll rigging, we urge you to wait until a thorough, transparent, and credible investigation has been conducted before recognising a new Pakistani government. Without taking this necessary step, you risk enabling anti-democratic behaviour by Pakistani authorities and could undermine the democratic will of the Pakistani people,” the US lawmakers said.
The letter urged Pakistani authorities to release anyone who has been detained for engaging in political speech or activity and tasked State Department officials in Pakistan with gathering information about such cases and advocating for their release.
It urged the Biden administration to “make clear” to Pakistani authorities that US law provides for accountability for acts that violate human rights, undermine democracy, or further corruption, “including the potential for military and other cooperation to be halted”.
The letter noted that before the elections, former prime minister Khan was sentenced to prison terms of 10 years and 14 years on “questionable charges” of leaking state secrets and corruption. Members of his PTI party “were forced” to run as independents and prohibited from using the party symbol on the ballot, “despite consistently polling as the most popular party in the country”.
“Leading up to the election. PTI members faced police raids, arrests, and harassment. On the day of the election, Pakistani authorities suspended mobile calls and data, making it harder for voters to find polling stations,” the lawmakers noted.
While the pre-poll rigging efforts rightly received widespread international and domestic condemnation, attention has now turned to widespread allegations of past-poll rigging, they said.
“Concerns arose after delays in reporting final results and early returns showed PTI-backed candidates on a path to victory. Over the coming days and weeks, previously reported vote totals allegedly changed dramatically, while video evidence emerged on social media of purported abuses by security forces and election officials at polling stations, as results were delayed well past legal deadlines,” the letter said.
The legislators noted that findings by nonpartisan observers also lend credibility to these concerns.
According to the Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN), which is nonpartisan but has worked closely with election authorities, more than two-thirds of polling sites suffered from the kinds of election law violations that could have enabled changing outcomes of races, they noted, adding that these findings were echoed by other election monitors, human rights organisations, and the nation’s media as well.
“This growing body of evidence and diversity of voices has led many of the leading observers, human rights organisations, and media organisations to call for a transparent, credible audit process to verify the true outcome of the election,” they emphasised, urging the Biden administration “to show Pakistanis that the US stands with them in their fight for democracy and human rights”.
According to a report in Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper, all 33 signatories are pivotal progressive Democrats essential for securing President Biden’s second term.
It noted that influential Muslim lawmakers — Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar, and Andre Carson — have also endorsed the “pro-PTI letter”.
The letter was also signed by Indian-origin Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, the chai¬r¬person of the Progressive Caucus. (PTI)