The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Target Pervez on African safari

New Delhi, April 23: Foreign minister Yashwant Sinha is travelling to Africa this week to lobby Botswana, the chairman of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG), to keep Islamabad out of the Commonwealth for doing little to restore democracy.

Pakistan was suspended from the Councils of the Commonwealth in November 1999 after the military coup that ousted the democratically-elected Nawaz Sharif government and brought Pervez Musharraf to power.

The foreign minister’s visit to Botswana is part of South Block’s new policy in dealing with Pakistan.

During his visit to Srinagar, Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee had expressed willingness to resume talks with Islamabad if it stops infiltration across the Line of Control and violence in Kashmir. But Vajpayee’s appeal notwithstanding, Delhi has decided to keep up the pressure on the Musharraf regime to ensure that Islamabad does not see India’s peace overtures as an obvious response of a soft state.

The Indian leadership has decided to continue lobbying world leaders against Pakistan. Yesterday, Sinha spoke to his French and Iranian counterparts Donique de Villepin and Kamal Kharazi. Earlier, he had spoken to British foreign secretary Jack Straw.

All three leaders discussed the situation in South Asia and appreciated the “constructive declaration” made by Vajpayee in Srinagar.

Sinha will be in the Botswanian capital Gabarone on April 28 to hold talks with foreign minister Lt Gen. Mempati Meraphe, who chairs the CMAG.

A crucial meeting of the CMAG is due this May, when India wants to use its influence to garner support from other members in keeping Pakistan out of the Commonwealth.

Fiji, too, had been suspended from the Councils, but was re-admitted in December 2001 after “free and fair” elections were held in the island nation.

The suspension on Pakistan, however, remains. Zimbabwe, too, is out of the Councils because of large-scale violence in the wake of Robert Mugabe’s land redistribution policy.

Opinion in the CMAG is split over re-admitting these two members. Britain, Canada and Australia believe the suspension on Zimbabwe should remain, but they are in favour of taking back Pakistan, which, they say, had made an effort to restore democracy by holding general elections last year.

However, India argues that though the Zimbabwe polls may not have been without blemish, it had been freer than most, and Mugabe had certainly done a lot more for the cause of democracy than Musharraf.

From Pakistan’s point of view, re-admission to the Councils is important both economically and politically. Britain and several other members of the Commonwealth are the chief investors, aid donors and trade partners of Pakistan. But it is the political impact that is more crucial.

If Pakistan’s suspension is revoked, it will be Musharraf’s first major step in gaining legitimacy for his experiment with “sustainable democracy”. On the other hand, if further conditions are imposed, the military ruler will know that the world is not impressed with the manner in which the general elections were conducted in his country.

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