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Friday, October 29, 1999 Published at 10:07 GMT 11:07 UK

World: South Asia

Analysis: Little concern over Commonwealth

The generals have paid little heed to Commonwealth threats

By South Asia analyst Jannat Jalil

There has been little interest in the Commonwealth visit, despite its threat to suspend Pakistan from the organisation.

Pakistan in crisis
The foreign secretary, Shamshad Ahmed, said that the members of the Commonwealth didn't offer each other much in economic terms.

That is probably why Pakistani newspapers haven't given prominent coverage to the trip - some preferring to concentrate instead on the recent visit by a senior Japanese government envoy.

Japan was Pakistan's biggest aid donor until sanctions were imposed last year in response to Pakistan's nuclear tests.

The Pakistani Government says it would regret suspension from the Commonwealth, but seems not to be too concerned about it.

Even President Rafiq Tarar - once considered a close ally of the deposed prime minister Nawaz Sharif - is reported to have told the Commonwealth delegation that it was necessary for the military to take over to carry out urgently needed economic reforms.

Rocky relationship

Pakistan's relations with the Commonwealth have historically been turbulent.

Islamabad withdrew from the organisation for 17 years after Britain's recognition of Bangladesh, which had broken away from the rest of Pakistan with the military help of India.

[ image: General Zia: Tried to gain readmittance]
General Zia: Tried to gain readmittance
Although there is little evidence to suggest that Pakistan's economy was made any more insecure because of its absence from the Commonwealth, the government of military ruler General Zia-ul Haq lobbied intensively to be re-admitted.

However, the organisation turned him down repeatedly because his was not a democratically government.

All that changed with the election of Benazir Bhutto's government, which took office in 1989. She hoped that membership would provide Pakistan with education possibilities, particularly in Britain, in addition to securing more overseas investment.

US stance important

Amongst ordinary Pakistanis, the main reaction, when there has been one, is of anger at the Commonwealth's threats following the recent coup.

[ image: Canada's Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy: Leading Commonwealth team]
Canada's Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy: Leading Commonwealth team
Many of them - disillusioned with a string of elected but corrupt governments - welcomed the coup.

Far more important to them than the Commonwealth reaction, will be what the United States has to say.

The US has relaxed some of the sanctions it originally imposed on Pakistan following the coup - now allowing the country to receive American bank loans and agricultural credit guarantees.

Yet another signal that it seems prepared to give the new military government a chance to prove that it can restore the country's battered economy.

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