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Pakistan Welcomes Readmission Into Commonwealth - 2004-05-22

Pakistan is welcoming its readmission into the 53-member Commonwealth, comprising mostly former British colonies. The Commonwealth announced its decision Saturday, saying the country has made progress on democratic reforms. The bloodless military coup in October 1999 that put President Pervez Musharraf in power had led to Pakistan's suspension from the group.

Speaking to reporters at the end of a two-day meeting in London (Saturday), Commonwealth Secretary General Don McKinnon said the member nations found that Pakistan has been making good progress on pledges to restore democracy.

"The group welcomed the progress made in restoring democracy and rebuilding democratic institutions in Pakistan and decided, therefore, that Pakistan should no longer remain suspended from the councils of the Commonwealth," he said.

But Mr. McKinnon says the Commonwealth expects President Musharraf to fulfill his promise to quit as chief of the army by the end of this year. He said that the Commonwealth will monitor progress on this issue.

Pakistan has welcomed the decision. Its ambassador to London, Maleeha Lodhi says, her country has long fulfilled requirements the Commonwealth set, in terms of democracy. She cited the parliamentary elections in October 2002 that installed the pro-military government of Prime Minister Zafarullah Jamali.

"We believe this was a welcome decision," said Maleeha Lodhi. "Its an overdue decision. It is a vindication of Pakistan's democracy. We also believe this decision is in the best interest of both the Commonwealth, as well as Pakistan."

Opposition parties in Pakistan, however, maintain that democratic reforms have yet to be implemented in the country. Raza Rabbani is a senior leader and lawmaker of the opposition political party of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

"We have held elections, that is correct, but the subsequent passage of the 17th constitutional amendment bill, the passage of the National Security Council Act and the very functioning of parliament itself leaves a very, very big question mark on whether partial democracy has been restored to Pakistan or not," he said.

Through a package of controversial changes known as 17th amendment, the pro-military government has extended President Musharraf's term in the office until at least 2007.

The constitutional changes have also led to the creation of a National Security Council headed by Mr. Musharraf, which has top military generals as its members, in addition to the prime minister and other civilian leaders. Opposition leaders say this violates a constitutional ban on military leaders being involved in political decision-making.