Commonwealth suspends Pakistan over failure to lift emergency rule

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Pakistan was suspended from the Commonwealth last night, after General Pervez Musharraf failed to meet a deadline to lift emergency rule and resign as army chief.

The decision was taken by a committee of nine foreign ministers, meeting in Kampala on the eve of the Commonwealth summit, and followed hours of tough negotiations that began yesterday morning.

Emerging from the talks last night, the Commonwealth secretary general Don McKinnon announced that Pakistan had been suspended "pending restoration of democracy and rule of law in the country". The Commonwealth ministers, who met in London 10 days ago, had given Pakistan until yesterday to lift emergency rule and take off his army uniform or face being suspended from the 53-nation organisation.

"The group expressed disappointment that while there had been some progress, the conditions remain unfulfilled," Mr McKinnon said, reading a statement on behalf of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group.

"The state of emergency had not been lifted. The constitution and the independence of the judiciary not restored and fundamental rights and the rule of law remain curtailed."

Yesterday, General Musharraf cleared the final legal hurdle to ruling as a civilian president following a decision by the newly-appointed Supreme Court, stuffed with loyalist judges who validated his reelection. General Musharraf has promised to take the oath as civilian president, which according to the attorney general, Malik Mohammed Qayyum, could take place as early as tomorrow following the latest court decision.

Britain had clearly hoped that General Musharraf's actions would be sufficient to at least delay suspension from the Commonwealth – for the second time since 1999 when General Musharraf seized power. Pakistan was readmitted in 2004 after the general promised to give up his army uniform.

Gordon Brown was involved in a last-ditch appeal to the Pakistani president to avert Commonwealth action. He spoke to General Musharraf, a close ally in the "war on terror" on Wednesday night. Mr Brown said General Musharraf had promised to "do his utmost" to lift the emergency in time to allow free and fair elections and to quit the army as soon as possible.

But the Pakistani president's moves cut no ice with the majority of Commonwealth states, with African states in particular feeling Pakistan could no longer bend the rules of the organisation, which has placed democratic rule at the heart of its core values.