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Wednesday, October 27, 1999 Published at 03:13 GMT 04:13 UK

World: South Asia

Pakistan pressed on democracy

Nawaz Sharif (right) with General Musharraf before the coup

Pakistan has been threatened with removal from the Commonwealth unless it gives the organisation a clear timetable for returning the country to democratic rule.

Pakistan in crisis
Canadian foreign minister Lloyd Axworthy, who heads a Commonwealth team visiting Pakistan, said the country's military leaders need to present his delegation with a blueprint for restoring democracy.

He told the BBC that he was seeking more than the promises made so far by Pakistan's new military ruler, General Pervez Musharraf.

Canadian Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy: "There has to be a timetable for restoring democracy"
The general has made given no deadline in public for new elections but the BBC understands he has indicated to the Commonwealth that he expects to remain in power for at least a year.

The delegation, which is scheduled to begin its visit on Wednesday, has asked Pakistan's new military rulers to grant them access to former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who was overthrown earlier this month.

Since the military coup Mr Sharif has been detained at an undisclosed location.

The delegation will report back to a Commonwealth summit in South Africa in two weeks.

Mr Axworthy said that unless he was presented with a timetable for the return of democracy he would recommend removing Pakistan from the Commonwealth.

Pakistan has already been suspended from the Commonwealth in line with the Harare Principles, which take a hard line on military takeovers in Commonwealth states.

Mr Axworthy said Pakistan must:

  • explain its plan for restoring democracy
  • protect the legal rights of those it has arrested, including Mr Sharif and
  • begin the process of ensuring an independent judiciary and media.

If the Comonwealth delegates were allowed to see Mr Sharif they would be the first people to visit him since he was deposed two weeks ago.

Most other members of Mr Sharif's administration, who were held under house arrest in the hours following the coup, have been released.

Foreign visit

Pakistan's new military ruler has made little public comment on his plans for Mr Sharif.

General Musharraf, who is on a visit to Saudi Arabia - his first foreign trip since seizing power - threw little light on his plans in comments published in two Saudi newspapers.

When asked about the future of Mr Sharif he told the Asharq al-Awsat newspaper: "You will see later. Let time decide and Sharif himself will see what we will do."

In a second interview he refused to set a date for the restoration of democratic politics.

"I have not set the date yet, but I have set what I will do to improve the economy and when my mission ends then elections will be held as soon as possible," he told Al-Hayat newspaper.

Mecca pilgrimage

On Tuesday, the general held talks with Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah and outlined his plans for Pakistan.

Earlier, he made a pilgrimage to the Muslim holy city of Mecca.

On Monday, the general met the Saudi monarch, King Fahd, as well as the country's defence and interior ministers.

He told journalists before the meeting that he would explain developments in Pakistan to the Saudis and "ask for their support".

Saudi Arabia has traditionally been one of Pakistan's closest allies, extending large amounts of aid.

It was one of the first countries to welcome Pakistan's new military regime.

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