The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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London test for Pervez democracy

New Delhi, Oct. 12: Pervez Musharraf’s first test on whether the outside world is convinced about his experiment to restore democracy in Pakistan will come later this month when the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) meets in London to decide whether Islamabad should be allowed to re-join the block of 50-odd former British colonies.

For India, too, it will be a test of its diplomatic skills. India is part of the CMAG and foreign minister Yashwant Sinha may find it difficult to convince the other members in the group that the general elections in Pakistan has only helped Musharraf perpetuate his dominance in the country’s affairs and done little to restore democracy.

Pakistan was suspended from the council of the Commonwealth in November 1999 for the military coup that overthrew the democratically elected Nawaz Sharif government and brought Musharraf to power. The forthcoming meeting of the group will decide whether Pakistan has done enough to restore democracy in the country, a step that would call for revoking the suspension.

The ministerial action group’s two-day meeting takes place in London from October 28. But Sinha will stay on for two more days to hold a bilateral meeting with his British counterpart Jack Straw and other senior members of the British foreign policy establishment.

The CMAG was established in Auckland in November 1995 to give political teeth to the Commonwealth’s commitment to the Harare Principles. The stress is on a set of fundamental political values that Commonwealth members agree upon, such as adherence to democracy, the rule of law and human rights.

The ministerial action group’s recommendations, based on its investigation in countries where the Harare Principles have been violated, prompt the Commonwealth to take both punitive and remedial measures.

Besides Pakistan, Fiji, which overthrew the democratically elected government of Mahendra Chaudhury two years ago, will also come up for review. Last year, Fiji held a democratic election and chose a new Prime Minister.

But it is Pakistan’s fate that is of interest to India and many other countries. For Islamabad, a re-admission to the Commonwealth Council is important both economically and politically. Britain and many other Commonwealth members are the chief investors, aid donors and trade partners of Pakistan.

The political significance is, however, more important. If the CMAG revokes Pakistan’s suspension from the Commonwealth Council, it will be the first major step for Musharraf to gain legitimacy for his experiment with “sustainable democracy” in Pakistan. If further conditions are imposed, Musharraf will know that the outside world is not impressed with the manner in which general elections were held.

India, for one, which has been closely watching the steps taken by Musharraf in the run-up to the elections in Pakistan and the general elections in the country, is aware of the military dictator’s gameplan. It is aware that the so-called elections in Pakistan has been done not only to strengthen Musharraf’s own position, but also to give credence to the religious fundamentalist parties, which were so far on the fringes of the country’s politics.

By showing the rise of the religious parties in Baluchistan and North West Frontier Province — the two provinces of Pakistan that borders Afghanistan — Musharraf can claim unqualified support from the US and the West to continue with the war against al Qaida. At the same time, a handpicked Prime Minister and Cabinet in the National Assembly and dominance of the religious parties in these provinces would enable the military dictator to strengthen his position domestically.

It is not clear what strategy India will adopt in London to convince the CMAG not to ease the pressure on Pakistan. But if the present signals are anything to go by, India’s opposition to Musharraf may not find many takers among the Commonwealth foreign ministers.

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