The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Democracy dilemma in London

New Delhi, May 6: India may have to tone down its “lack of democracy” campaign against Pakistan when the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group meets in London later this month.

At the meeting, scheduled for May 19, the group members will decide whether Pakistan and Zimbabwe — both suspended from the Commonwealth councils for lack of democracy in their countries — should be readmitted into the multilateral body.

Till recently, India had been actively campaigning with the other members to ensure that the suspension on Pakistan was not lifted. This continued to be Delhi’s policy till late last month when foreign minister Yashwant Sinha travelled to Gabarone to lobby Botswana, the chairman of the group.

But now, after Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s gesture of conciliation to Pakistan, India seems to be in a fix on what stand it should adopt at the London meet. “We will continue to be pro-active on the issue. However, our tone may not be as shrill as it was in the past,” a foreign ministry official said.

Though the remark indicates India’s dilemma, South Block mandarins argue that there are no contradictions in India’s approach. “Just because we want to normalise relations with Pakistan does not mean that we are not serious about the lack of democracy in that country,” said an official. He pointed out that India had invited Pervez Musharraf for the Agra summit, though everybody knew he was responsible for the Kargil war.

A section of the Indian establishment feels Delhi should continue to exert pressure on Pakistan on the democracy issue. “It is a fact that there is no democracy in Pakistan. The general elections held in the country last year have convinced few people in the outside world about its fairness,” a foreign ministry official said. But others have made it clear that India’s campaign in London meet will be far less strident.

What may work out in India’s favour and save it from active lobbying on the issue is that opinion in the group is divided over the fate of Pakistan and Zimbabwe.

The large-scale violence in Zimbabwe in the wake of Robert Mugabe’s land redistribution had led to its suspension from the councils of the Commonwealth. Britain, Canada and Australia feel the suspension should remain. But they are in favour of taking back Pakistan as they feel it has taken the decision to restore democracy by holding the polls.

But South Africa, Nigeria and Botswana are opposed to this view. They argue that though the elections in Zimbabwe may not have been perfect, they were freer than most and that Mugabe has done much more than Musharraf towards restoring democracy.

This lack of consensus could prevent lifting the suspension on both countries. If that happens, Delhi would achieve its goal without actively campaigning for it. But it may find itself in a spot if the majority of the members in the CMAG decide to lift the suspension on Pakistan.

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