The Commonwealth readmitted Pakistan on Saturday, citing its progress on democratic reforms since the country was suspended after a military coup five years ago.

The decision ends the exclusion imposed after Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, seized power in 1999. Pakistan has already been embraced by the United States as a major ally and has helped in the U.S-led war against terror.

The group of 53 countries, most of them former British colonies, said after a meeting of foreign ministers and diplomats that it would monitor further reforms and expected Musharraf to meet a pledge to step down as chief of the army by the end of this year.

Pakistan, which has a population of 149 million, had long argued that it had already met Commonwealth demands. "This is our moral victory. We deserve it," said Information Minister Rashid Ahmed.

Critics accuse Musharraf of building up a personal power base by strengthening pro-military groups before quitting as army chief and point out that top opposition leaders, including former prime ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, have been in exile for several years.

Farhatullah Babar, spokesman for Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party, said, "The decision is not surprising as Western countries, taking General Musharraf's promise to fight against terror on its face value, wanted to reward his government."