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UNLIKELY TO THAW

The decision of the Commonwealth not to lift its suspension on Pakistan will increase the bitterness between New Delhi and Islamabad. India played a key role in preventing Pakistanís re-entry into the international organization. It is clear now that the foreign offices of India and Pakistan are unlikely to allow a thaw in bilateral relations, if left to themselves. The decision by the Commonwealth not to re-allow Pakistan into its fold was ostensibly taken because Pakistan continues to be under the control of its armed forces. The Commonwealth group of countries has long agreed that a member country where democracy is thwarted will not be allowed re-entry until the restoration of popular rule. Pakistan was suspended from the Commonwealth soon after the military coup led by General Pervez Musharraf in 1999. For nearly two years, Pakistan was remarkably isolated, and even its allies found it difficult to rehabilitate the country. But this state of affairs ended after the terrorist attacks of September 2001. As soon as Pakistan became a so-called ally in the United States of America-led war against terrorism, Islamabadís isolation gradually ended. Even countries with the most principled foreign policies began a new phase of engagement with Islamabad. The military junta helped by holding parliamentary elections and appointing a civilian prime minister. Although critics may view democracy in Pakistan as a façade because most of the power is controlled by the armed forces, it did provide a cover for many countries to build relations with Islamabad. Indeed, a large number of countries of the Commonwealth would have been prepared to allow Pakistanís re-entry into the Commonwealth.

However, as was to be expected, it was India that raised objections to Islamabadís re-admission and, since the Commonwealth works on the principle of consensus, Pakistanís suspension stayed. It is also not surprising that Pakistanís diplomats have gone ballistic and blamed Indiaís attitude for all that has been going in wrong bilateral relations. But after the recent spat between Indian and Pakistani diplomats on the floor of the United Nations, little better could have been expected from the Indian foreign office. In sum, bureaucrats from both the sides seem to have once again jacked India-Pakistan relations. It is quite clear that while some progress has been made in improving bilateral ties since the Indian prime minister, Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee, launched his latest peace initiative in April this year, there has been no breakthrough. People-to-people contacts have flourished, and the bus link between Delhi and Lahore has been restored. However, there are no signs of an official dialogue. This will require a new political initiative, but the leadership in India and Pakistan does not seem inclined that way.

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