On Monday, media outlets reported that British Foreign Secretary David Miliband arrived Sunday in Pakistan for two-day talks. During the visit, the official affirmed the UK’s support for the Pakistani government’s talks with militants “who have renounced violence,” [more detailed post to follow], and called for Pakistan to be readmitted into the Commonwealth. What does that mean exactly? The Commonwealth is a 53-nation bloc of Britain and its former colonies. The group suspended Pakistan in 1999 when President Musharraf seized power in a bloodless coup. Although the country was readmitted into the Commonwealth fold in 2004, it was suspended for a second time in November 2007, following Musharraf’s declaration of emergency rule.
Today, Miliband asserted that Pakistan has since made “democratic progress” and should therefore be allowed readmission into the organization. Reuters noted, “He has pointed to the extension of press freedoms and the re-establishment of constitutional rules,” and told reporters Monday, “The democratic transition that Pakistan’s people have undergone over the last few months, has I think, been … for many parts of the world, an inspiration…I want Britain to be a leading voice calling for Pakistan’s re-entry [to the Commonwealth].” The Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group, which deals with violations of the organization’s rules of democracy, will reportedly meet in London on May 12 to discuss the suspension. Pakistani foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi told reporters during a joint news conference, “I am expecting a very positive outcome [from this May 12th meeting].”
Does this really matter in the grander scheme of issues on Pakistan’s political agenda? Probably not, but Commonwealth membership does hold symbolic significance for the country and the international community. According to the UK’s Guardian on Monday, “Although the grouping has little power, Pakistan’s exclusion has been a diplomatic embarrassment.” Reuters noted, “Pakistan’s suspension had few practical implications but it was designed to send a message to a country that its conduct was unacceptable to a group that prides itself on championing democracy.”
On my news hunt for blog-appropriate stories today, I found that several British media outlets – BBC News and Reuters UK in particular – asked their readers for feedback, probing the question, “Should Pakistan be readmitted into the Commonwealth?” Here were some notable answers I observed:
Pakistan should now be admitted back to the Commonwealth now after restoration of Democracy and the elections. – Agha Imran, Karachi
Pakistan has a chequered history shuttling between democracy and militarism since its independence. Commonwealth like the UN is in essence diluted to a mere tag reminding faintly of British imperialism. Gilani is an able PM but how long he will last till the corrupt Asif Zardari takes the rein of power or for that matter another plunderer of people’s wealth Nawaz Sharif. Let Pakistan enjoy the reentry to Commonwealth club till another coup d’etat resurfaces. – Aziz Merchant, United States
Commonwealth is nothing more than a moral authority. It cannot impose sanctions or any economic or political penalties. Whether Pakistan is in or out, does not make any tangible difference. However, as an organization of ex-British colonies, commonwealth certainly does provide Pakistan’s political system a sort of moral legitimacy as well as a forum to interact with other countries with whom it shares a common past. So, yes, Pakistan should try and get back into the commonwealth. – Safdar Jafri
It does not matter. We are good enough to settle things even without being a member of CW. It’s one of the remaining marking of the dark colonial rule. Pakistan should get rid of it rather then approaching it again. –Shiraz Mehmud, Trondheim
I pose a similar question to you – should Pakistan be readmitted into the Commonwealth based on its recent democratic progress? Moreover, does its inclusion in this bloc matter? Or is the organization nothing but a remnant of British colonial rule that should be avoided at all costs?