The Commonwealth is increasingly facing pressure especially from the African countries to suspend emergency-ruled Pakistan, as top leaders of the multilateral grouping begin a three-day summit here from Friday with democracy on top of their agenda.
Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) met here on Thursday, for the first time since setting a 10-day ultimatum for Pakistan to lift the emergency, during which African members pushed hard for suspension of Pakistan, highly-placed sources said, adding Britain and Canada toughened their stand after soft-pedaling on the issue initially.
During an hour-long meeting, which saw heated debate on the issue, African countries in the nine-member CMAG pitched for action against Pakistan, saying the Commonwealth cannot have one set of standards for some and another for others. Africa is represented in the panel by Tanzania and Leshotho.
The hard stand by Africa is understandable considering the fact that the Commonwealth has in the past suspended or expelled two African countries Zimbabwe and Sierra Leonne for subverting democracy.
However, Sri Lanka and Malaysia went soft on any action against Pakistan at the CMAG meeting, the sources said.
Given the divided opinion in CMAG, they did not rule out the possibility of either postponing an action against Pakistan or extending the timeline for Islamabad to complying with the five conditions set by the Commonwealth to avoid suspension.
The conditions are lifting the emergency, President Pervez Musharraf doffing the uniform, restoration of fundamental rights, removing curbs on the media and release of political prisoners.
Addressing a pre-summit media conference, outgoing Commonwealth Secretary General Don McKinnon said it was going to be a “tough” decision to act against Pakistan.
Asked why it would be a tough decision when the developments in Pakistan present a strong case for its suspension, McKinnon said CMAG was “fully aware of the decisions flowing out of Islamabad and what is happening in Pakistan is a major issue. It’s a very fluid situation out there”.