Pakistan eyes re-entry to Commonwealth next month

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – Pakistan expects to be readmitted to the Commonwealth at a meeting of the 53-nation group next month, the country’s foreign minister said on Monday.

The Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group, which deals with violations of the organization’s rules on democracy, will meet in London on May 12 to review the suspension.

Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi told a news conference with his British counterpart, David Miliband, they had discussed Pakistan’s re-entry to the group of mostly former British colonies.

“I am expecting a very positive outcome on May 12,” Qureshi said.

Pakistan’s suspension had few practical implications but it was designed to send a message to a country that its conduct was unacceptable to a group that prides itself on championing democracy.

The Commonwealth agreed in November to review progress in Pakistan after elections. Musharraf stepped down as army chief in November and lifted emergency rule in December.

Parliamentary elections on February 18, delayed from January after the assassination of opposition leader Benazir Bhutto, were largely peaceful and international observers judged the vote, won by Bhutto’s party, generally free and fair.

A Commonwealth spokesman said last week a lot of the conditions set in November had been addressed.

Miliband, who is visiting Pakistan and met Musharraf, new Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani and political party leaders, said Britain had been “absolutely clear” it was right for Pakistan to have left the Commonwealth in November.

“But equally, I want Britain to be a leading voice calling for Pakistan’s re-entry into the Commonwealth and to re-enter into the Commonwealth family where it belongs,” Miliband told the news conference.

The Commonwealth suspended Pakistan in 1999 when Musharraf seized power in a bloodless coup but re-admitted the country in 2004 in recognition that democratic progress had been made.

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