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Monday, October 18, 1999 Published at 16:49 GMT 17:49 UK

World: South Asia

Q&A: Could the world isolate Pakistan?

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What did the Commonwealth decide?

Commonwealth leaders have agreed to suspend Pakistan following last week's military takeover.

Considering that the Commonwealth insists that all its member states are democracies, it was always unlikely that Pakistan would escape punishment.

The suspension means the Commonwealth will cut some ties with Islamabad at an organisational level. Individual nations will have to take their own decisions for any more action.

What does this mean in practice?

Historically, the Commonwealth has found it more difficult to impose economic sanctions though they cannot be ruled out.

But the move is a symbolic act of the international community's concern over the military coup.

Pakistan, which withdrew from the Commonwealth in 1972 before rejoining in 1989, will be the third country to have been suspended from the organisation because of military coups.

Nigeria was suspended in November 1995, after the execution of the playwright Ken Saro Wiwa and eight other environmental activists. It was only reinstated this year with the country's return to civilian rule.

Sierra Leone was suspended in July 1997 but rejoined after democratically elected President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah regained power in February 1998.

What kind of leverage does the world have?

Pressure can come in many forms - everything from strongly-worded diplomatic statements which can make a regime feel very uncomfortable, all the way through to complete blocks on trade, investment and aid.

But if the international community chooses to impose sanctions, it will require a high degree of unanimity and, critically, the co-operation of major international players.

The UK government has currently suspended around two-thirds of its £28m of aid, money which goes direct to the Pakistani government.

The final third will not be affected by the sanctions because it goes to non-governmental organisations and civil society projects.

Despite the suspension of aid, diplomatic ties are continuing.

What about other large international bodies?

The European Union says that it is currently considering the options.

Leaders have issued a statement saying that they were "gravely concerned" by the events in Pakistan but have stopped short of imposing any kind of sanctions yet.

The EU is currently funding numerous aid packages, including backing substantial economic restructuring programmes.

It says that any final decision on the future of aid to Pakistan will be taken at the EU Council meeting in November.

What about financial aid?

While sanctions by other bodies may appear serious, the only sanctions with any substantial weight will be those linked to Pakistan's economy.

The International Monetary Fund, backed by Washington, imposed sanctions against both India and Pakistan following their tit-for-tat nuclear weapons tests in 1998.

Sanctions were lifted in November 1998 when the IMF agreed to a $5.5bn rescue package after the Pakistani government threatened to default on billions of dollars of foreign debt.

In January this year, Pakistan officials gained a further $1bn in loans and $3bn in debt relief in return for a pledge to implement a major package of economic reforms.

Deposed Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had come under increasing pressure over the economy in the weeks running up the coup because of his failure to implement those reforms.

This time round the stakes are just as high.

Pakistan owes a a massive $34bn to foreign creditors and IMF aid totalling $280m was hanging in the balance even before the coup.

The army chief, General Pervez Musharraf, has cited Mr Sharif's failure to deal with the debt as one of the major reasons behind the coup.

So will the IMF act?

Any IMF move is entirely dependent on what Washington decides and, while it has expressed concern, it does not appear to have ruled out working with the leader of the coup.

President Bill Clinton imposed wide-ranging sanctions, including trade, aid and military co-operation, in May 1998, but many of the sanctions were lifted in November that year after US officials said that they feared for the long term prospects for the region.

But if President Clinton is considering sanctions again, he may be reminded of an official report into the effect they had in 1998.

The report concluded that the sanctions made little impact but the brunt of lost sales fell on American farmers and businesses.

It estimated that the measures cost Pakistan only $57m but the US almost three times more.

Are other nations involved in direct financial aid?

Yes. In recent years Japan has been the largest national donor of aid aimed at restructuring the Pakistani economy, pledging some $282m in 1997.

But its bilateral aid ties have been suspended since May 1998 and Tokyo refuses to release new aid and loans.

What about other types of sanctions?

The other major weapon is banning arms exports and "military co-operation" which often takes the form of allowing officers to benefit from training in the US or perhaps the UK.

Pakistan has a long history of buying arms from the US and has a defence budget of some $4bn, much of which goes on buying foreign technology.

According to official figures, the US gave Pakistan $142m worth of arms purchasing licences in 1996 and 1997, valid for up to four years.

Sales were banned in 1998 following the nuclear tests but some military ties still exist.

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