Pakistan restored to full membership of Commonwealth

Pakistan was restored to full membership of the Commonwealth yesterday, four-and-a-half-years after the military coup that brought General Pervez Musharraf to power.

The Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) agreed to lift Islamabad's suspension from the organisation's decision-making councils in the light of the progress made in "restoring democracy and rebuilding democratic institutions". However, the nine-member group, meeting in London, warned General Musharraf that it expected him to honour "in letter and spirit" a commitment to stand down as head of the army by the end of the year.

While Britain is not a member of CMAG, the decision was warmly welcomed by the Foreign Office, where diplomats have been actively lobbying for the lifting of the suspension.

Pakistan was suspended after the military coup of October 1999. However, since the 11 September 2001 attacks on the US, General Musharraf has emerged as an important ally of the West in the war on international terrorism. Although elections were held in October 2002, they were dismissed as a sham by the opposition parties after General Musharraf banned the former prime ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif from returning to the country to contest them.

Some African states were reported to be unhappy at moves to re-admit Pakistan, arguing that it was receiving favourable treatment compared to Zimbabwe.

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