Prime Minister Manmohan Singh left for Kampala on Thursday to attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting beginning tomorrow in Uganda, the east African nation that is hoping the mega-event would help shed the image still associated with the brutal rule of Idi Amin in the 1970s.
Singh returned from a whistle-stop trip to Singapore for the India-Asean Summit late last night, dropped in at Parliament for a few hours before he took the flight on Thursday afternoon to attend the three-day summit of leaders who represent more than a quarter of the world's population.
"India is strongly committed to the Commonwealth's role of nurturing a sense of belonging to a shared past and a shared destiny based on common values," the prime minister said in his pre-departure statement that referred to India's strong commitment to the Commonwealth to play a key role in meeting global challenges.
On the agenda of the 53-nation Commonwealth club of mainly former British colonies are the global challenges of human rights, fair trade, terrorism and Millennium Development Goals and climate change.
But the turmoil in Pakistan might end up dominating the larger part of the summit that will be formally inaugurated by Queen Elizabeth who returned after 53 years on Wednesday to the land better known for its ruler through the seventies, Idi Amin, on whose orders lakhs of people were massacred and thousands forced to flee.
And this is exactly the image that keeps popping up that President Yoweri Museveni wants to whitewash. This Sunday, he told reporters in Kampala that the summit would give Uganda a "reputation", which would bring business. Over the last few months, capital Kampala has been cleaned up and the usually potholed roads given a fresh coat and pulled out the law against prostitution to keep sex workers away from the heart of the city that will largely play host to nearly 5,000 delegates from across the globe.
Pakistan faces the risk of suspension from the commonwealth in light of the emergency that Pakistan president general Pervez Musharraf imposed in the country. The last deadline for Islamabad to give up his uniform and lift emergency expires today but Islamabad wants more time to do this.
New Delhi has maintained so far that it wasn't taking sides; the recommendation – either ways – will have to come from the nine-member ministerial action group that will meet in Kampala on Thursday. One possible explanation for Delhi's silence is that Islamabad had earlier promised to support the Indian high commissioner to UK, Kamalesh Sharma, who is contesting elections for the commonwealth secretary general. Sharma is pitted against the Malta foreign minister.
Singh had this week refused to comment on the situation in Pakistan, saying it was Islamabad's internal affair.
"I have said on more than one occasion that the destinies of our two countries are interlinked. A prosperous, stable, peaceful and democratic Pakistan is not in our interest. I sincerely hope the difficulties through which Pakistan is passing are resolved and they find pragmatic, practical and effective means of solving their problems," he said.