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Friday, 1 November, 2002, 17:02 GMT
Pakistan remains suspended
Ballot-boxes on polling day
Pakistan was suspended after the 1999 coup
Commonwealth foreign ministers have decided to maintain Pakistan's suspension from the organisation's meetings - despite the recent elections to restore civilian rule.

It would be premature for this committee to conclude that democracy had been restored in Pakistan

Botswanan Foreign Minister Mompati Merafhe
An announcement by Secretary-General Don McKinnon pointed to the "limiting" effect of measures introduced by President Musharraf prior to the polls.

He also said that even though there had been elections, there was as yet no fully formed government with proper executive powers, nor an elected legislature with full authority.

Pakistan was suspended after the coup in 1999 which brought General Pervez Musharraf to power, but polls were held in October.

CMAG [Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group] agreed to maintain the status quo on Pakistan's suspension from the councils of the Commonwealth, pending greater clarity and an assessment of the role and functioning of democratic institutions," Mr McKinnon told a news conference in London.

Observers from the Commonwealth had ruled that the actual vote was credible and democratic, but had misgivings about curbs on the parties during the campaign.

Musharraf's test

The Pakistani High Commissioner in London, Abdul Qadir Jafar, said the decision would not affect Pakistan.

He told the BBC Urdu service that power was being transferred to an elected government, and that the previous three years (since the military coup) "had been better than democracy".

New regulations were introduced prior to the polls which effectively debarred two former premiers, Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, from standing.

Commonwealth facts
Created in 1931 out of the British Empire
54 member states with total population of 1.7 billion people
Leader: Queen Elizabeth II
CMAG members: Australia, Bahamas, Bangladesh, Botswana, India, Malta, Nigeria, Samoa
President Musharraf also wants to give the military a greater role in political affairs through the creation of a national security council.

It remains to be seen how the new, mixed military-civilian national security council works in practice.

Nonetheless, Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer commended the October elections as a very important step by Pakistan back down the path of democracy.

It had been, he said, "an election that to a significant extent captured public opinion in Pakistan and one of the most democratic elections Pakistan has had".

The ministers have not set a date for reassessing the situation in Pakistan.

Hard line

BBC world affairs correspondent Mike Wooldridge says the decision to keep Pakistan suspended is a defeat for those who wanted explicit recognition of the steps that it had taken so far.

Pervez Musharraf
General Musharraf: Key ally in war on terror
He says there were some at the meeting who wanted to give Pakistan encouragement.

However, others were concerned about being seen to be lenient on Pakistan because of its key role in the war against terror.

The ministers discussed Zimbabwe, also suspended from Commonwealth meetings, but agreed to take no further action given that a troika of three Commonwealth heads of government is dealing with that issue.

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said Australia would have liked a strong stand, but some countries - which he did not name - did not want statements condemning Zimbabwe.

The BBC's Fiona Werge
"For now the country and its president remain on probation"
Musharraf's Pakistan

Democracy challenge

Militant threat




See also:

25 Oct 02 | South Asia
19 Mar 02 | Africa
21 Dec 01 | Asia-Pacific
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