LONDON (AFP) – A group of Commonwealth foreign ministers gathered in London Monday to discuss possible sanctions against Pakistan, as a senior figure called for an immediate end to emergency rule.
Despite President Pervez Musharraf’s announcement Sunday that elections would be held by January 9, the chairman of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group said constitutional rule should be reimposed before any vote.
“The return to constitutionality must be accompanied by free and fair elections,” Malta’s Foreign Minister Michael Frendo told BBC radio, describing the current situation in Pakistan as “flawed.”
Senior diplomats from nine Commonwealth countries — Britain, Canada, Lesotho, Malaysia, Malta, Papua New Guinea, St Lucia, Sri Lanka and Tanzania — that currently make up CMAG were to discuss what action to take later Monday.
Frendo said suspension was part of a “whole spectrum of action” that can be taken by CMAG, which deals with serious breaches of the 53-nation Commonwealth’s guiding principles.
Pakistan was previously suspended from the Commonwealth in 1999, after army general Musharraf seized power. It was reinstated in 2004.
Last year, CMAG suspended Fiji after a military coup in the south Pacific Ocean nation, while Zimbabwe was suspended in 2002 in the wake of President Robert Mugabe’s controversial re-election.
Neither Frendo, nor Commonwealth Secretary-General Don McKinnon, would pre-empt the decision of the extraordinary meeting, but members of the body are pushing for a strong message to be sent to Musharraf.
Frendo said Musharraf would be “wrong” to ignore the Commonwealth. “We want Pakistan to remain a member of the family of nations within the Commonwealth,” he said.
“But we must also ensure that the principles of the Commonwealth are not only respected by CMAG itself and the Commonwealth itself retain their integrity of credibility.”
Britain’s Foreign Office on Sunday welcomed Musharraf’s announcement, although opposition leader Benazir Bhutto has said any vote would be meaningless without a lifting of emergency rule.
Rights groups and analysts in Pakistan have also said that without the restoration of constitutional rule, elections were unlikely to be either free or fair.
London said it still wanted to see “urgent” action to restore the constitution, release political prisoners, pursue political reconciliation with opposition groups and lift restrictions on the media.
Musharraf should also honour his pledge to step down as head of the armed forces, it added.
Canada’s Foreign Minister Maxime Bernier expressed similar views in a statement Friday, saying they were pushing for a “strong” Commonwealth response to the situation.
And the Commonwealth Human Rights Intitiative, the organisation’s main rights group, also called for “swift action”, describing it as a “moment of singular importance” for the grouping.
The meeting, at the Commonwealth’s Marlborough House headquarters in central London, is likely to be a curtain raiser for a meeting of its heads of government in Uganda later this month.