Commonwealth foreign ministers suspended Pakistan from the organization's councils today and said they will send a mission to Islamabad to press the new military regime to restore civilian rule.
The action, a response to the ouster of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif last week, could lead to a suspension of Pakistan's membership in the 53-country organization, made up mainly of Britain and its former colonies. That decision can only be made by Commonwealth heads of government, who will meet in Durban, South Africa, in mid-November.
The chairman of the ministerial group, Zimbabwe's Stan Mudenge, said it "unanimously condemned the unconstitutional overthrow of the democratically elected government of Pakistan as a serious violation of the Commonwealth's fundamental political principles."
In Washington, President Clinton said he was pleased by the "conciliatory tone" that coup leader Gen. Pervez Musharraf took toward India in a televised speech Sunday night, but he added that he was "quite disappointed that there was no commitment toward a timetable to move toward democracy, and I certainly hope that will be forthcoming."
The U.S. ambassador to Pakistan, William B. Milam, told reporters in Islamabad that the Clinton administration "will have to do business" with Musharraf but is "not exactly sure how much." The United States will be watching to see how he deals with human rights and civil liberties before deciding how much to engage with the new regime, he said.
Milam said the United States has no plans to push for the restoration of Sharif, who is under house arrest. "There was no evident opposition to his ouster," Milam said. "It is not practicable for us to call for his return."
Musharraf said in an interview published today in Britain's Guardian newspaper that his key objective was to bring about accountability in his country. "I have been encouraged by the reaction of the international community," he said. "They seem to understand that we are facing huge problems here and had to act."