Washington: The Biden Administration said Thursday it is for the people of Pakistan to decide their future leadership as the country voted in its general elections amid allegations of rigging and electoral malpractice.
"Millions of Pakistanis went to the polls today to vote, and I will reiterate that Pakistan's future leadership is for the Pakistani people to decide, and our interest continues to be in the democratic process," State Department Deputy Spokesperson Vedant Patel told reporters at his daily news conference.
He condemned all instances of election-related violence, both in the weeks preceding as well as on the polling day on Thursday.
"These kinds of election-related violence, we believe, affected a broad range of political parties across Pakistan. It impacted polling stations, election officers, as well as the election commission,” he said as he expressed concerns about the restrictions on the exercise of freedom of expression.
"We are tracking reports of restrictions on internet and cellphone access across Pakistan on polling day. And we, along with the international community, will continue to emphasize the importance of democratic institutions, a free press, a vibrant civil society, and expanded opportunities for political participation of all of Pakistan's citizens. But I am not going to get ahead of any of the other official election results, so I’m not going to comment on this any further," Patel said.
The State Department official refrained from commenting on preliminary results. "The thing about preliminary results is that they are preliminary. And I am not going to get ahead of any official results, and so I’m not going to comment or speculate further on what a government could look like, what the makeup could be, or anything like that," he said.
"What I will just reiterate again is that we condemn all instances of election- related violence, even some of the kinds that you are describing that took place in the weeks preceding the election as well as on election day," he said.
"We also believe that these kinds of actions have affected a number of political parties across Pakistan, and we're also concerned about the steps that were taken to restrict freedom of expression, specifically around internet and cellphone use. But again, I'm just not going to speculate on results or government makeup," Patel said.
"We will at some point – I have no doubt that the United States of America will comment on the official election results when they happen, but till then we will defer to the electoral process, which we take very seriously," he said in response to a question.
Asked if the US would accept the results while they're being tainted by allegations of rigging, violence, torture, he said, "We are going to continue to monitor the electoral process. We are not going to get ahead of any official results, and we want to see a process that took place in a way that allowed for broad participation, freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association," he said.
"There were some clear restrictions of the exercise of freedom specifically around internet and cellphone use – and those, of course, are concerning. We’ve also seen reports of election-based violence in the weeks leading up to this, as well as on election day. Those continue to be concerning, and those, we believe, have impacted a number of political parties. But again, I’m just not going to get ahead of this, and it is truly up to the people of Pakistan to decide their political future," he said.
When a reporter said the US has been fairly muted on human rights violations in Pakistan, but the focal point between bilateral relations is the Pakistan military so election results do not matter, Patel said, "I would certainly take issue with that characterization."
"The makeup of the Government of Pakistan is up for the Pakistani people to decide. What the United States is interested in is deepening our partnership and cooperation with the Government of Pakistan regardless of what the makeup of the government is. That is not for us to decide. There are a number of areas in which we believe we've got some strategic shared priorities, and we look forward to continuing to work in that space," Patel said.