New York, Sept. 28: An understated but resolute objective of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s visit to New York was achieved yesterday when the Commonwealth decided to extend Pakistan’s suspension from the 54-member organisation.
The decision, taken by the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group, meeting here on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, will mean that General Pervez Musharraf will not be invited to the next Commonwealth summit in Abuja, Nigeria, in December.
For India, more significant than Musharraf’s exclusion from a big gathering of world leaders is the principle that it represents.
At the meeting, Australia fought hard for Pakistan’s reinstatement, arguing that geopolitical and security considerations demanded its suspension be revoked.
This is the same argument the White House puts forward to defend Musharraf’s policy of running with the terrorists and hunting them. That is, Musharraf should be excused for everything else since he is with the US in Afghanistan.
India has repeatedly warned other countries of the dangers of falling for Musharraf’s duplicity.
The Commonwealth’s rejection of Musharraf’s double-faced policy on terrorism represents the first major setback for the General’s hitherto successful efforts since September 11 to gain a place at global councils.
For this reason, one of Vajpayee’s first meetings in New York was with Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, host of December’s summit.
External affairs minister Yashwant Sinha represented India at yesterday’s meeting, but foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal laid the groundwork for the outcome.
The lobby of New York’s Helmsley Hotel, where the meeting took place yesterday, was rife with rumours of Pakistan’s cheque-book diplomacy to get re-entry into the Commonwealth.
At least one African country was said to have been bought out. Khaleda Zia’s anti-Indian itch put Bangladesh on the side of those supporting Pakistan.
A statement after the meeting did not refer to terrorism, but said Pakistan’s suspension could be revoked if its parliament passed a democracy package in accordance with the country’s constitution.
PTI quoted a Pakistani foreign office spokesman as blaming India. “It is regrettable that such a decision was taken, though democracy was restored in Pakistan,” he said.
On his return to Delhi, Vajpayee said the peace process had suffered a setback from Musharraf’s statements at the UN.
Members of Vajpayee’s team insist that India had advised Musharraf through friendly third countries not to rave at Delhi lest it lowered the level of India-Pakistan debate. The General chose to ignore the advice.