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Pakistan democracy sermon to Commonwealth

Islamabad, Dec. 8: Pakistan today described the Commonwealth ministerial action group’s decision to keep its membership suspended as regrettable and demanded the organisation “demonstrate a bit of democracy within its own ranks.”

“The criteria followed at Abuja, Nigeria, to exclude Pakistan from the Commonwealth does not make sense,” foreign office spokesman Masood Khan said at a regular press briefing. He said the Commonwealth decision was regrettable because civilian rule had returned to the country as a result of general elections in October last year. Without naming India, Khan said one or two countries were “blocking the will of the majority of members which favour Pakistan’s re-entry into the organisation.”

Khan said Britain and Australia were among those countries which, he claimed, are supporting Pakistan’s case.

New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark had told reporters in Abuja on Saturday that there would be no change in the Commonwealth’s position vis-à-vis Pakistan, criticising President Musharraf’s continued refusal to step down as army chief.

“The Commonwealth will not re-admit Pakistan until President Pervez Musharraf steps down as army chief and addresses other Commonwealth demands for democratic and judicial reforms,” she said.

The 53-member Commonwealth — a grouping of Britain and its former colonies — had suspended Pakistan’s membership after the October 1999 coup by Musharraf.

The organisation had promised to revive the membership after full restoration of parliamentary democracy in Pakistan.

However, the Commonwealth ministerial group did not approve the restoration of Pakistan’s membership during a meeting in New York in September . The group announced that “a deadlock between the government and the Opposition makes it clear that more needs to be done towards restoring a democratic civilian government in Pakistan.”

The decision had caused ripples back in Pakistan with senior foreign ministry officials condemning the Commonwealth for interfering in the country’s internal affairs.

Commonwealth secretary general Don McKinnon had on Thursday raised Pakistan’s hopes of readmission when he said that ministers dealing with the issue felt the country was certainly moving in the right direction.

“If differences between government and opposition on certain issues is a reason to maintain the suspension, the Commonwealth should know that the difference of opinion is an essential ingredient of democracy,” Khan said.

He, however, said Pakistan would not pull out of the 54-member Commonwealth.

“It will be premature to think on these lines,” he said, adding that it is Pakistan’s right to be a member of the Commonwealth.

The spokesman also referred to a British White Paper on nuclear non-proliferation and denied any cooperation between Pakistan and Britain on the issue.

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