Essay on Pakistan and Commonwealth Countries

Whatever the Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry had to say, the Commonwealth severely criticized Musharraf’s failure to resign as chief of Pakistan’s Army, his suspension of the Constitution, and his detention of judges and members of the political opposition. A report of The Daily Telegraph, London reads thus:

Eight Foreign ministers from the former British colonies, including David Miliband, the (British) Foreign Secretary, condemned Gen Musharraf’s imposition of emergency rule and suspended Pakistan with immediate effect.

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“This decision was taken in sorrow, not in anger,” said Mr. Miliband, “I’m absolutely clear that democracy and the rule of law are the best allies of stability in Pakistan.”

The ministers, who met in Kampala’, Uganda’s capital, on the eve of a full summit of Commonwealth leaders, noted Pakistan’s failure to “fulfil its obligations in accordance with Commonwealth principles.”

The Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) which supported the decision to suspend Pakistan from Commonwealth stated that the Group stresses the need to foster international peace and security; democracy; liberty of the individual; equal rights for all and opposes all forms of oppression. The Commonwealth’s decision was applauded by Human Rights Watch.

The Australian ABC News found the suspension “embrrassing for Pakistan” but stated that it will have “limited practical effect.” An analysis in the Guardian said that there was “little the 53-member group can do to hurt Pakistan”.

It, however, pointed to the fact that the suspension would end the funding of projects designed to encourage economic liberalisation and good governance, and a ban on Pakistan attending meeting of Commonwealth heads of Government. The suspension prevented Pakistan from attending the Uganda Commonwealth Summit held in the last week of November 2007.

It is interesting to note that Pakistan’s attitude was in sharp contrast with that of Zimbabwe—suspended from the Commonwealth in 2002. President Robert Mugabe called the group “a mere club” in which “some members are more equal than others.”

Musharraf, on the other hand was far from being apathetic to the suspension. His deep concern was visible from the fact that he lobbied hard for a delay, making calls to the British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, asking for a reprieve.

Pakistan’s then caretaker Prime Minister, Mohammedmian Soomro urged the Commonwealth to send a delegation to Pakistan for a first-hand assessment of the situation, if Pakistan had been worried about suspension, it would not have bothered with such an intense diplomatic effort. Islamabad was well aware of the fact that in the present age of globalisation, no country can revel in an outcast status.

The other nation that currently stands suspended from the Commonwealth is Fiji, ousted after its coup in January 2007 when military chief Bainimarama restored executive powers to President lloilo and took over the role of interim Prime Minister.

In April 2007, Bainimarama sacked the Great Council of Chiefs and suspended all future meetings after the Chiefs refused to endorse his government and his nomination for Vice President.

Several countries including South Africa, Nigeria and Sierra Leone have been suspended and later readmitted to the Commonwealth. Pakistan had been previously suspended from the group in 1999 when Musharraf seized power in a coup and deposed the democratically elected Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif.

However, it was readmitted in 2004. Pakistan has made democratic progress as elections have been held and Yusaf Raza Gillani a member of the Pakistan People’s Party whose leader Benazir Bhutto was assassinated in December 2007 has been made the Prime Minister.

There was a strong opinion worldwide that, putting the regretful episodes behind, Pakistan should be readmitted to Commonwealth.

Some people, however, believed that Pakistan must first eliminate terrorism in all its forms and manifestations. It must stop using terrorism and religious extensions as an instrument of policy before it can be taken back to the club of colonial glory and nostalgia, i.e. Commonwealth.

Pakistan was readmitted to the Commonwealth of Nations in May 2008. It was a welcome development as the Commonwealth meetings which now Pakistan can also attend will provide opportunities to the leaders of both India and Pakistan to talk on various issues of development of the subcontinent.

Pakistan’s absence from these meetings due to its suspension as happened in the case of Uganda meeting in November 2007 would have ended these opportunities.

Secondly, although India has made it very clear that it will not accept any third party mediation in the Kashmir dispute, there are several other issues like cross-border terrorism, sharing of Indus water, nuclear proliferation, gas pipeline from ‘ran to India through Afghanistan and Pakistan, WTO trade regulations, etc. where members of the Commonwealth can use their influence and remove roadblocks. If Pakistan were kept excluded from the group, it is less likely to have remained under the influence of the members.

Thirdly, if Pakistan’s suspension meant blockage of funds for its various projects, it would have slowed down growth in the country and adversely impacted trade between India and Pakistan. Promotion of commercial interaction is an important component of India’s policy engagement with Pakistan.

The financial year 2006-07 witnessed substantial growth of bilateral trade from US$ 320 million during April-August 2005 to US$ 759 million during the same period in 2006.

Pakistan expanded its positive list allowing import of Indian goods from 773 to 1075 items which included important food items like onions, tomatoes, potatoes, garlic, sugar, meat and many others.

In the present times of global food shortage and rising prices of food items, including in India, import of such items from Pakistan assumes great significance. It is necessary from the global point of view also to help Pakistan grow quickly so that it can contribute towards world food security.

India is host to Commonwealth Games to be held in 2010 at New Delhi. With its readmission, Pakistan will be able to participate in this mega sports events.

It will help further India’s objective of maintaining cordial relations with its neighbours. Now it is up to Pakistan to maintain law and order in the country and respect human rights and not to repeat the earlier ugly happenings.