As heads of state gather for the Commonwealth summit in Melbourne, Australia is lining up support to bring Pakistan back into Commonwealth ranks. Sources in Canberra suggest that most Commonwealth nations are in favor of of asking Pakistan to reapply for membership, particularly in light of Soviet activity in Afghanistan, the Asian nation's neighbor. A common view among Commonwealth leaders is that Pakistan's ties with the West will be strengthened by having the country back in the group.
Pakistan quit the Commonwealth nine years ago when Britain recognized breakaway Bangladesh, formerly East Pakistan, as an independent nation.
Bangladesh is said not to oppose a return by the Islamabad government. India let it be known last week that it is by no means certain to approve of reentry, but there is reason to believe it will not voice an objection either.
The Indian attitude is crucial. India opposes increased United States arms aid and arms sales credits to Pakistan, suggesting that the weapons may be used against India rather than the Soviet Union.
New Delhi may well decide that having Pakistan in the Commonwealth may make that nation more susceptible to pressure to settle any future conflict. One Canberrasource says that Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi advised Australia's prime minister, Malcolm Fraser, that she would not oppose Pakistan's presence in the Commonwealth.
India's hesitancy to give a firm answer on the issue has been interpreted in Canberra as a sign of Indian annoyance that word of the behind-the-scenes negotiations, in which India has been included, leaked out. however, there has been no notice from New Delhi that Pakistan's return will be opposed.
The Commonwealth -- a grouping of Britain and its former colonies -- includes Australia, Canada, India, New Zealand, Nigeria, and various African, Asian, Caribbean, and Pacific nations. Their leaders will meet in Melbourne sept. 30 to Oct. 8.
Prime Minister Fraser has played a major part in the quiet diplomacy aimed at bringing about Pakistan's return to the Commonwealth fold. his efforts have involved sounding out Commonwealth nations' views on an invitation to Pakistan and what the nations' responses to such an application to rejoin would be.
Pakistan's President Zia ul-Haq, according to Canberra sources, would like to reapply for membership, but is not prepared to risk a rebuff. For this reason, efforts have been made to have the matter resolved behind the scenes so that any decision at the Commonwealth summit will be little more than a formality.