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Pakistan could be back in Commonwealth soon

The Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group is understood to have told Islamabad that it will meet to review the situation as soon as it detects changes on the ground in the country.

world Updated: Dec 04, 2007 10:14 IST

Pakistan could find itself back in the Commonwealth fold by the time the global group's new secretary general, India's Kamalesh Sharma, takes over on April 1 next year.

Pakistan's Commonwealth membership was suspended November 22 after President Pervez Musharraf imposed a state of national emergency. But Pakistan has been told by a powerful political group within the Commonwealth that it will review the suspension as soon as it detects changes on the ground in that country, according to reliable diplomatic sources in London.

The Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG), which consists of the foreign ministers of nine countries, is understood to have told Islamabad that it will meet to review the situation as soon as it sees movement on the basic demands made by the 53-nation Commonwealth.

For Pakistan's suspension to be reviewed, Musharraf must shed his army uniform, which he has already done, repeal emergency provisions, that he has promised to do, restore the constitution, release political detainees, lift media curbs and hold general elections by Jan. 15, 2008.

There appears to be a degree of cautious expectation that Pakistan will make the desired changes before Sharma, at present India's high commissioner to Britain, moves from India House to the stately Marlborough House in London.

Nevertheless, Musharraf's moves to set up an interim government are being watched closely. He also has to ensure that he takes all the steps that would make next year's planned general elections credible.

Islamabad reportedly made an informal request for its membership not to be suspended in the days before Commonwealth leaders met in Kampala for their biennial summit November 23-25, promising to take the steps demanded of it if given more time.

But CMAG, which is responsible for deciding what to do with member-states who seriously and persistently violate basic democratic values and human rights, turned down the bid to buy time.

The group of foreign ministers is mindful of the fact that although Pakistan's previous suspension was lifted in 2004, Musharraf continued to fill the dual role of army chief and president for three more years. As a result, Islamabad's request apparently did not go down well, well-placed diplomatic sources say.

Meanwhile, it has emerged that Pakistan was among a group of South Asian countries that encouraged New Delhi to field a candidate for the Commonwealth secretary general's post. In discussions at a SAARC meeting earlier this year, these countries assured India of their support for its candidate.

New Delhi was told that 2007 being 'Asia's turn' for secretary-generalship, India should not let the opportunity lapse and that its candidate would not be opposed by South Asia.

Sharma, asked about Pakistan in a recent interview, has said that as secretary general, he will show an "absolutely equal consideration in terms of goodwill and respect" towards all the members of the Commonwealth.

However, Pakistan's role within the Commonwealth throws up larger questions than merely democratic reforms at home.

It remains to be seen, for instance, how the Commonwealth under Sharma's leadership will approach with the United Sates-led war on terrorism.

Signs are that Sharma is a believer in the traditional strengths of the Commonwealth - the two legs of development and good governance - and prefers to leave the job of fighting terrorism to the United Nations. And his belief appears to be based on experience.

It was Sharma who introduced the draft of the Global Convention on Terrorism as India's Permanent Representative to the UN in 2000. Seven years on, the treaty is still not through. It is stuck on a single issue - the definition of freedom fighters - for what are thought to be political reasons.

Rather than risk taking a potentially divisive and uncharted path without necessarily adding value to the war against terrorism, the Commonwealth led by Sharma is expected to emphasise the diversity of its members.

In this he takes the cue from none other than the Commonwealth's brightest star, Nelson Mandela of South Africa, who has famously described the Commonwealth as a body that makes the world "safe for diversity."