Opposition blocking Pak. entry into Commonwealth, says Jamali

ISLAMABAD May 22. For the record, Pakistan has termed the Commonwealth's decision to take up the question of its re-entry into the Councils of the group in September as a `positive development' but managers of the Jamali Government are worried over the possible fallout on the domestic front.

This was evident today when the Prime Minister, Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali, accused the Opposition of blocking Pakistan's re-entry by adopting an `adamant' stand on issues related to validity of the Musharraf laws. His comments could only further strain relations between the Government and the Opposition.

The Government was sure of Pakistan's re-admission after the October general election. But it had not anticipated that the Commonwealth would use the deadlock between the Government and the Opposition over the status of the Musharraf laws to block its return.

At the international level, it means little for Pakistan as its relations with the Western block, particularly the United States, are not guided by whether or not it is a Commonwealth member. Particularly so after Pakistan emerged as a `frontline state' in the so-called U.S.-led coalition war against terrorism.

Pakistan was suspended from the Councils of the Commonwealth after Gen. Musharraf took over in October 1999 and could continue to be out of it for some more time without any major obstacle on the world stage. However, the real impact of the decision would be felt on the home front as the Government is engaged in a grim battle with the Opposition on the validity of Musharraf laws and continuation of Gen. Musharraf as the Army Chief.

Only on Tuesday the Government-Opposition committee, constituted to evolve consensus on all the contentious Musharraf laws including his uniform, had its last sitting. The bad news for the Government is that the committee has failed to arrive at a mutually acceptable agreement. The Opposition continues to insist that there is no way it would accept Gen. Musharraf donning two caps, that of the Army Chief and the President.

The Speaker of the National Assembly, Chaudhary Amit Hussain, who was the chairman of the committee, is expected to submit his report on the basis of the deliberations of the members to Mr. Jamali tomorrow. Indications are that Mr. Jamali would meet senior leaders of all parties in a bid to resolve the row.

The managers of the Jamali Government have reasons to be worried that the decision of the Commonwealth could actually strengthen the Opposition's resolve against any compromise. There have been desperate attempts by the ruling combine in the last few days to win over the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal. The ruling party could use the threat of possible dissolution of the National Assembly by Gen. Musharraf in the event of lack of consensus.

The Government and the Opposition are already feeling the pinch of the dispute. Though it is more than six months since the general elections were held, there has not been a single normal session of the National Assembly to date. Next month the Finance Minister has to present the budget. During the military rule it was presented on the television and radio.

The Pakistan Foreign Minister, Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri, urged journalists to look at the brighter side of the Commonwealth Foreign Ministers meeting in London on Tuesday which welcomed the steps towards democracy in Pakistan though it upheld its exclusion from the group until Parliament won "full sovereign authority".

Mr. Kasuri said the Ministers had said democratic institutions had continued to develop in Pakistan since Gen. Musharraf held parliamentary elections in October.

They also welcomed the measures taken to promote the representation of women and minorities and "the determination to enhance public accountability and end corruption". But they decided to uphold Pakistan's four-year suspension from the Commonwealth's main decision-making bodies until their next meeting in New York in September.

Mr. Kasuri said the Commonwealth Secretary-General, Don McKinnon, consulted him before the meeting and appreciated the progress in the transition from a military to a civilian Government.

In a separate statement the Foreign Ministry expressed `disappointment' over the Commonwealth decision.

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