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Tuesday, October 19, 1999 Published at 15:49 GMT 16:49 UK


Pakistan 'regrets' suspension

'The new administration will be primarily civilian in character'

Pakistan has said it regrets the decision by the Commonwealth's move to suspend the country.

Foreign Secretary Shamshad Ahmad, who is Pakistan's most senior Foreign Ministry official, said the decision ignored the fact that the new government had the support of most Pakistanis.

Pakistan in crisis
The Commonwealth's move "ignores the extraordinary circumstances" which led to the overthrow of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, the official said.

He said there was no martial law in Pakistan and the country's new military ruler, General Pervez Musharraf, had announced his administration would be primarily civilian in character.

Islamabad correspondent Owen Bennett-Jones: "General Musharraf continued work on selecting his new administration"
Earlier, Pakistan's ambassador to the UN, Inam ul Haque, said that he regretted the "short sighted and hasty" Commonwealth response.

"This is an exercise in coercion and exerting pressure from abroad which is not warranted by the situation," he said.

In a meeting with reporters before the Commonwealth announcement, Pakistan's new military ruler General Pervez Musharraf said he was pleased with international reaction to events in his country.

[ image: The general introduces his family to the media]
The general introduces his family to the media
In comments published in Britain's Guardian newspaper, he said the international community seemed to understand the huge task ahead of him.

"Accountability is key. We will start at the top and work down," he said. "Nobody is out of the ring. A thorough cleansing of the nation is what is required."

He added: "In a unipolar world relations with the United States are very important."


The Commonwealth decision was the first formal step towards suspending Pakistan from the 54-nation association, which under Commonwealth rules could only be done by the heads of government summit in South Africa next month.

The BBC's Owen Bennett-Jones: "Pakistan's chief focus is on Washington - that's where the key players are"
On Monday, the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group met to take the decision which bars Pakistan from the summit.

The ministers called on the military regime in Islamabad to set "without delay" a timeframe for the restoration of a democratically-elected government in Pakistan.

The Commonwealth is also sending a four-member mission to meet the military leaders to press for the return of civilian rule.

The delegation will report back in time for November's summit to decide whether or not to suspend Pakistan's actual membership.

Commonwealth Secretary-General Chief Emeka Anyaoku said military ruler General Pervez Musharraf had agreed to receive the mission.

Ministers also called on the general's regime to uphold the safety, well-being and legal rights of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and other ministers who have been detained.

Pakistanis' right to choose

The action by the Commonwealth had been widely expected following the coup.

Suspension from the Commonwealth is more of a symbolic gesture than one with practical consequences.

[ image:  ]
Correspondents say that although the move increases the pressure on Islamabad, Pakistan's chief preoccupation remains the possibility of economic sanctions from Washington, Europe and the International Monetary Fund.

General Musharraf assumed the position of chief executive last Thursday night, after ousting Mr Sharif.

Mr Sharif remains in "protective custody" at an undisclosed location.

But most senior members of the ousted government have been released.

As well as declaring a state of emergency and giving himself sweeping powers, General Musharraf has suspended the constitution, as well as national and regional legislatures, ending hope of an early return to democratic rule.

Troop withdrawal

On Monday, the Pakistan military said it had started to fulfil one promise made by the general - a troop withdrawal along the international border with India.

However, India's army chief, General VP Malik, said the reductions did not amount to much.

He said India was keener to see Pakistan pull its forces back from the Line of Control in the disputed territory of Kashmir - a move he said would be a true confidence-building measure.

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