LAHORE, Pakistan — Sen. Joseph Biden urged Pakistani authorities to ensure that Monday's parliamentary elections are free and fair, warning that the country could face greater instability if the vote is rigged.
"Without an open election that gains the confidence of the vast majority of the middle class here there will be great turmoil," Biden, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in Lahore on Sunday.
Biden, along with Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass., and Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., will observe the polling Monday and meet political leaders in Lahore, the hub of Pakistani politics.
Pakistanis will choose a new parliament in the elections, which were delayed six weeks after former prime minister Benazir Bhutto was assassinated on Dec. 27. The elections could determine the political survival of President Pervez Musharraf, who is America's key ally in the war on terror.
Biden, D-Del., said a more democratic government would help Pakistan combat spreading Islamic extremism and suggested Washington should reduce its reliance on Musharraf. The Bush administration has promoted Musharraf as a moderate leader capable of holding together the nuclear-armed country.
"I do not buy into the argument that the only person who has the capacity to help in dealing with terrorism is Musharraf," Biden said.
He said the United States should cut military aid to Pakistan if the elections are rigged. But if it turns out to be credible, the U.S. should reward Pakistan with a "democracy dividend" that triples its economic aid to the Asian country to $1.5 billion, he said.
Biden said he was "mildly optimistic" that the vote will be fair. However, he said the Pakistani military "has to know there is a price to pay for failure to support democratic institutions."
The U.S. delegation is scheduled to travel to Afghanistan and India after Pakistan.