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Pakistan's exclusion from Commonwealth only symbolic

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Foreign ministers meeting in Uganda have voted to suspend Pakistan from the Commonwealth. Pakistan will be out of the international club until President General Pervez Musharraf restores democracy and the rule of law.

Britain's Foreign Secretary David Miliband says the move to suspend Pakistan from the Commonwealth was broadly supported.

"This decision was taken in sorrow, not in anger," he said.

"Every single country represented here is fully in favour of the decision that we've taken."

It's a punishment General Musharraf can live with, but would not be pleased about.

Dr Bina D'Costa is a security analyst in the Asian Studies Faculty at the Australian National University.

"I would say it's embarrassing for Pakistan, and Pakistan's leaders are actually going to meet on the Monday to talk about it, and the possible implication of it," she said.

But she says Pakistan would be more concerned if it was excluded from the alliance with the United States.

"That's where the real pressure is going to come from," she said.

"But I guess, having said that, that all these opposition parties are going to use this expulsion from the Commonwealth, seeing that how embarrassing it is for Pakistan, as a state, to be expelled."

In practice, Pakistan's suspension from the Commonwealth is likely to mean that Pakistan representatives won't be able to attend Commonwealth meetings or training programs.

Also the nation's elite athletes would be excluded from the Commonwealth Games. The next games are due to be held in India in 2010. Whether Pakistan is back in the Commonwealth before then will depend on General Musharraf.

Practicalities

Australia's Foreign Minister Alexander Downer was not at the Commonwealth ministers' meeting in Uganda.

Australia is one of the original members of the Commonwealth but is not in the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group which voted to suspend Pakistan. Still, Mr Downer says Australia supports the decision.

"I think it's the right decision because it upholds the core principles of the Commonwealth, which are enshrined in the ironically named Harari Declaration, which sets out that the Commonwealth is committed to democracy and the rule of law and separation of powers and freedom of speech and expression," he said.

"Since those things are not happening in Pakistan, it's not credible to avoid the suspension of Pakistan from the Commonwealth. It has to be suspended, and it's been the right decision."

Pakistan has been suspended from the Commonwealth before and Mr Downer says it may not make much difference in a practical sense.

"I think countries would rather not be suspended from a body like the Commonwealth - I think it's embarrassing," he said.

"You could go further than that - it's humiliating for them to be suspended from such an august body.

"But, you know, in terms of practicalities on the ground, it's not going to make a very big difference to them.

"But, I mean if they were very worried about being suspended from the Commonwealth, President Musharraf would have responded more favourably to the demands made of him a week or so ago." © 2007 Australian Broadcasting Corporation

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