The European Union has linked future co-operation with Pakistan to the holding of "free, fair and secure" parliamentary elections, as President Pervez Musharraf embarked on a European tour to shore up support for the polls on 18 February following the assassination of Benazir Bhutto.
Despite the lifting of the state of emergency last month, Amnesty International says "arbitrary arrests and detentions, enforced disappearances, and torture and ill-treatment – coupled with pervasive political violence undermine the prospect of free and fair elections".
The country's most popular television station, Geo TV, was allowed back on air yesterday after executives signed a code of conduct which government critics say limits press freedoms.
The EU foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, warned Mr Musharraf that "elections have to be fair and free and secure". He told reporters: "Our co-operation, our level of engagement will be in view of the results of the process." EU trade with Pakistan is worth $9bn [£4.5bn] annually.
Mr Musharraf arrived in Brussels yesterday at the start of a visit taking him to London, Paris and the World Economic Forum in Davos. He said: "We are determined to hold free and fair elections. There is no possibility of it being rigged. Whoever wins, obviously power will be handed over."
But he accused the West of being "obsessive" about democracy: "You have taken centuries in reaching wherever you have come. Allow us time for going for the values that you have established for yourselves. We have a feudal tribal environment in some of our provinces, therefore in accordance with our environment we have to adapt democracy, human rights, civil liberties."