US backs freedom of assembly after Pakistan election

WASHINGTON: The United States called on Monday for respect of freedom of assembly as Pakistani authorities warned they would ban protests by supporters of jailed prime minister Imran Khan after his bloc’s shock election triumph.

“We want to see the freedom of assembly respected anywhere in the world,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters when asked about Pakistani police’s use of a colonial-era law against public gatherings.

Independent candidates — most linked to Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party — took the most seats in the election, scuppering the chances of the army-backed Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz to win a ruling majority.

However, independents cannot form a government, raising fears of prolonged political uncertainty as PTI leaders claim rigging and call for protests outside election offices.

Miller reiterated previous US calls for an investigation into fraud claims but noted that the results showed a competitive vote.

“We do think that the claims of fraud need to be fully investigated. That said, it was clearly a competitive election in which people were able to exercise their choice,” he said.

“Ultimately, we respect the democratic process and we’re ready to work with the government once it’s formed,” he said.

US Representative Ilhan Omar, who has come to prominence in Pakistan in part due to outspoken criticism of rival India, last week called on the State Department to refrain from recognising the election results until an investigation takes place into allegations of election misconduct.

The United States relied on Pakistani logistical support for its two-decade war in Afghanistan but many US officials believe tacit support by Islamabad for the Taliban contributed to the fall of the Western-backed government in 2021.

The Biden administration has kept Pakistan at arm’s length with Biden not speaking even by telephone with Khan, a longtime critic of US military operations.

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