Pakistan decries its suspension from Commonwealth

The 53-nation group of former British colonies suspended Pakistan Thursday in protest of General. Musharraf's declaration of emergency martial law.

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Pakistan denounced its suspension from the Commonwealth Friday, a day after the 53-nation group of former British colonies announced its decision, reprimanding Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf for his declaration of emergency martial law. Deutsche Presse-Agentur reports that Islamabad "called the Commonwealth's decision to suspend Pakistan's membership "unreasonable and unjustified."

"The decision does not take into account the objective conditions prevailing in Pakistan," the Foreign Ministry in Islamabad said in a statement. "The emergency was a necessary measure to avert a serious internal crisis which is being addressed and the situation is now returning towards normalcy," it added.

The Commonwealth's decision was handed down Thursday, reports The Daily Telegraph of London, a week after the group warned Pakistan that it would face suspension if emergency rule were not lifted.

Eight foreign ministers from the club of former British colonies, including David Miliband, the [British] Foreign Secretary, condemned Gen Musharraf's imposition of emergency rule and suspended Pakistan with immediate effect. "This decision was taken in sorrow, not in anger," said Mr. Miliband. "I'm absolutely clear that democracy and the rule of law are the best allies of stability in Pakistan." The ministers, who met in Kampala, Uganda's capital, on the eve of a full summit of Commonwealth leaders, noted Pakistan's failure to "fulfil its obligations in accordance with Commonwealth principles".

In particular, the ministers criticized Mr. Musharraf's failure to resign as chief of Pakistan's Army, his suspension of the Constitution, and his detention of judges and members of the political opposition. The suspension prevents Pakistan from attending a summit of Commonwealth nation leaders beginning Friday in Uganda.

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The Commonwealth, made up primarily of Britain and its former colonies, consults and cooperates "in the common interests of their peoples and in the promotion of international understanding and world peace," according to its website. In particular, the group "stresses the need to foster international peace and security; democracy; liberty of the individual and equal rights for all; the importance of eradicating poverty, ignorance and disease; and it opposes all forms of racial discrimination."

Although most of its members were former British colonies, the Commonwealth does not grant Britain any control over its member states. The Commonwealth's current head of state is Queen Elizabeth II, but her position is largely symbolic.

The Toronto Star notes that Canada, one of the nine members of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG), was a key supporter of the decision to suspend Pakistan and helped to overcome resistance by some members of the CMAG. The Star adds that the Commonwealth's decision was applauded by Human Rights Watch. "The ministers have to keep faith with the people of Pakistan who are seeking to restore democracy in their country," Reed Brody of Human Rights Watch said.

Although the suspension is embarrassing for Pakistan, it is largely symbolic and will have only limited practical effect, reports Australia's ABC News.

"I would say it's embarrassing for Pakistan, and Pakistan's leaders are actually going to meet on the Monday to talk about it, and the possible implication of it,' [Bina D'Costa, a security analyst at the Australian National University] said. But she says Pakistan would be more concerned if it was excluded from the alliance with the United States. "That's where the real pressure is going to come from," she said. "But I guess, having said that, that all these opposition parties are going to use this expulsion from the Commonwealth, seeing that how embarrassing it is for Pakistan, as a state, to be expelled."

An analysis in the Guardian agrees that the suspension has little practical value, but it adds that Pakistan actively sought to avoid such a fate.

In practical terms, there is little the 53-member group, a hangover from the British empire, can do to hurt Pakistan. Suspension will end the funding of projects designed to encourage economic liberalisation and good governance, and a ban on Pakistan attending meetings of Commonwealth heads of government. Yet few countries revel in pariah status and Pakistan exhibited all the signs of not wanting to be thrown out of the Commonwealth club. It lobbied hard for a delay. Calls were put in to Gordon Brown, the prime minister, by Pakistan's caretaker prime minister, Mohammedmian Soomro, and Musharraf himself, asking for a reprieve. Soomro urged the Commonwealth to send a delegation to Pakistan for a first-hand assessment of the situation. If Pakistan had been blase about suspension, it would not have bothered with such an intense diplomatic effort.

Islamabad's attitude appears to contrast sharply with that of President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, suspended from the Commonwealth in 2002. The Guardian notes that Mr. Mugabe called the group "a mere club" where "some members are more equal than others." The only other nation currently suspended from the Commonwealth is Fiji, ousted after its military coup last year, though Reuters notes that since 1949, several countries – including South Africa, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone – have been suspended and later readmitted to the group.

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