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Pak re-entry on hold

Abuja (Nigeria), Dec. 5: As anticipated, Pakistan’s return to the Commonwealth’s councils may have to wait till the country’s parliament resolves the issue of the legal framework orders passed by President Pervez Musharraf.

The Commonwealth ministerial action group, which discussed the issue on the eve of the inauguration of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (Chogm) here this morning by Queen Elizabeth II, did not think that Pakistan had done enough for the restoration of democracy to earn its re-entry into the councils.

Pakistan was suspended from the councils in 1999 in the wake of Musharraf’s military takeover. This was done on the basis of Chogm’s Harare Declaration (1991), which resolved to deal firmly with “serious or persistent violations of fundamental political values”.

Even Nigeria, the host of the current Chogm, remained suspended from the 54-member body from 1994 to 1999, when democracy replaced military rule in the country.

External affairs minister Yashwant Sinha said since there had been no resolution on the orders yet, the situation in Pakistan did not warrant a change in the position that had been taken by the action group in its meeting in New York last September. Sinha, who is in the group along with the foreign ministers of five other member-countries, however, said Pakistan’s re-entry was not a bilateral matter. “It is a Commonwealth issue.”

The Commonwealth secretary-general, Don McKinnon, however, struck a different note yesterday when he said the election of the national parliament and the provincial assemblies in Pakistan had signalled some “positive” changes in that country.

In his first bilateral meeting here with Australian Prime Minister John Howard, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee today said India was committed to carrying forward the peace initiative with Pakistan.

But the resumption of substantive peace talks would depend on Pakistan ending cross-border terrorism. It was not only a question of stopping infiltration of terrorists into India, but also one of dismantling terrorist infrastructure within Pakistan, Vajpayee told Howard.

According to Sinha, the Australian Prime Minister shared India’s concerns over terrorism, while appreciating Vajpayee’s recent peace initiatives with Pakistan.

Vajpayee is scheduled to meet British Prime Minister Tony Blair for his most important bilateral meeting here. Iraq and terrorism are likely to figure in the discussions.

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