Commonwealth crisis meeting called over ban Pakistan ban

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The secretary general of the Commonwealth has convened an emergency meeting of foreign ministers in London next Monday to discuss Pakistan, which could face suspension from the 53-member body over General Pervez Musharraf's declaration of emergency rule.

General Musharraf's decision to tear up the constitution before a court ruling on the legality of his re-election came only three weeks before a summit of Commonwealth leaders in Uganda, which is now expected to be dominated by the divisive issue Pakistan's membership.

But trouble could come at next week's meeting of nine foreign ministers from Tanzania's delegate, who could insist on the summit deciding on the second suspension of Pakistan in less than a decade over its commitment to democracy. It was suspended in 1999 after General Musharraf overthrew the prime minister, Nawaz Sharif.

Democratic values are a cornerstone of Commonwealth membership. African states, which have been warned against staging military coups, feel strongly that they were duped by Britain into allowing Pakistan back into the Commonwealth in 2004 with a promise from General Musharraf that he would doff his uniform.

In a worst-case scenario, the issue of Pakistan's membership could even spill over into the contest for the leadership of the Commonwealth, which is due to elect a new secretary general in Kampala. The Indian high commissioner to London, Kamalesh Sharma, who had been widely expected to gain a consensus, is running against the Maltese foreign minister Michael Frendo, the present chair of the action group.

The Africans may also call for the reopening of the issue of the membership of Zimbabwe, which left the organisation before it was expelled over President Robert Mugabe's failure to hold free and fair elections.