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Commonwealth Likely to Re-Admit Pakistan

The Commonwealth appears set to re-admit Pakistan, after the international group suspended the South Asian nation four years ago. Pakistan sees the move as symbolic but important.

Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesman Masood Khan says the 53-member group, composed of Britain and many of its former colonies, will likely readmit Pakistan at the next Commonwealth meeting, scheduled for April. "We are optimistic that Pakistan's full membership in the Commonwealth will be restored soon," he says.

After current President Pervez Musharraf staged a military coup in 1999, Commonwealth member states suspended Pakistan, demanding the country restore full democracy.

But objections have now cleared, following elections in 2002 and the Parliament's passage last month of a constitutional amendment formalizing General Musharraf's role as president.

Pakistani officials say the last obstacle was passed when Nigeria, previously a staunch opponent of readmitting Pakistan, agreed to drop its objections earlier this month.

A senior Pakistani official says that while membership holds little more than symbolic value for the country, Islamabad believes rejoining will mark the end of the barrage of criticism against Pakistan, which has marked recent Commonwealth meetings.

The official adds that the only remaining obstacle would be if longtime rival India blocks Pakistan's readmission. But he adds that this is unlikely, given the ongoing peace talks between the two neighboring states.