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Last Updated: Saturday, 22 May, 2004, 23:02 GMT 00:02 UK
Pakistan cheers Commonwealth success
zaffar abbas
By Zaffar Abbas
BBC correspondent in Islamabad

President Pervez Musharraf
General Musharraf has promised to relinquish his military position
Pakistan's democratic credentials may still be subject to close scrutiny by the Commonwealth, but the decision by its ministerial group to finally lift the suspension has sent a wave of excitement across Islamabad.

The Commonwealth's refusal to re-admit Pakistan to the fold had been particularly frustrating for President Pervez Musharraf in the face of constant rewards from more powerful world players like the United States.

Although the rewards were more for his role in combating global terrorism, they certainly helped him get away with some of his highly controversial decisions in domestic affairs.

So the decision by the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (Cmag) was quite important for him and the rest of the Pakistani government.


Pakistani officials had been waiting so eagerly for the ministerial group's decision that almost everything else was put on hold.

The president's office remained in touch with the foreign ministry, which in turn remained in constant contact with Pakistan's high commissioner in London as it awaited the ministerial group's decision.

We would have liked the Commonwealth to wait till there was real democracy in the country
Makhdoom Amin Fahim
The Alliance of the Restoration of Democracy (ARD)
When Commonwealth Secretary-General Don McKinnon announced the decision at a news conference in London, it immediately led to celebrations in Islamabad's official circles.

"It's a great decision," Information Minister Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed said.

"Indeed it's a moral, political and diplomatic victory for the Pakistani government."

The Commonwealth may have a limited clout in world affairs. But its decision to keep Pakistan's membership suspended since the military take-over of October 1999 had created a moral dilemma for President Musharraf.

His move to hold elections and establish a parliament was questioned by the Commonwealth because of his insistence on amending the constitution at will.


Eventually he had to accept some conditions.

Since Cmag's decision late last year against lifting the suspension, two significant developments created a favourable atmosphere for Pakistan.

In December last year President Musharraf struck a deal with the Islamic parties to get a new package of constitutional amendments passed by the parliament.

Soldier in Kashmir
Progress in the Kashmir peace process earned Pakistan extra points
Although he still managed to retain some additional powers for himself, under the compromise deal he had to make a pledge to doff his military uniform by the end of 2004.

This fulfilled one of the Commonwealth's major conditions.

Second, in January this year President Musharraf took a significant leap forward in establishing peace in South Asia by agreeing with the Indian prime minister to start a new process to normalise relations.

The historic meeting in Islamabad on the sidelines of a regional conference also neutralised India's opposition in the nine-member ministerial group, and helped Pakistan's re-admission.

Ordinary people in Pakistan are unlikely to understand the significance of being a member of the Commonwealth.

But on the whole they are pleased with the decision. It is the main opposition parties - that had been quite openly opposing the move - who have been disappointed.

"We would have liked the Commonwealth to wait till there was real democracy in the country," said Makhdoom Amin Fahim, who heads the main opposition grouping, the Alliance of the Restoration of Democracy (ARD).

Military man

The opposition's real objection is that Pakistan cannot be called a democratic state as long as the country is being ruled by a military man.

The Commonwealth leaders recognised that, and in a sense, have only given a conditional restoration Pakistan's membership.

The secretary-general has expressed the hope that President Musharraf will live up to his promise of relinquishing his role of head of the military by the end of this year.

But he too is unwilling to say if refusal by President Musharraf to keep the promise would result in an automatic suspension of Pakistan's membership.

All indications are that even after making a public pledge to quit the post, the military ruler is having second thoughts.

Perhaps the Commonwealth leaders will have to wait until the end of the year to find out if their decision to lift the suspension, and accept Pakistan as a democratic state, was correct.

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