Commonwealth threatens to suspend Pakistan unless emergency rule lifted

The Commonwealth is threatening to suspend Pakistan if it doesn't lift emergency rule by Nov. 22.

Bhutto placed under house arrest

The Commonwealth is threatening to suspend Pakistan for imposing a state of emergency rule, saying in a statement that it has "seriously violated the Commonwealth's fundamental political values."

In anotice posted on its website Monday, the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group said Pakistan has until Nov. 22 to repeal emergency laws, restore the constitution, release all political prisoners and confirm that its president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, has stepped down as army chief.

"CMAG agreed that at its next meeting on 22 November if, after review of progress, Pakistan has failed to implement these necessary measures, it will suspend Pakistan from the Councils of the Commonwealth," the statement read.

The head of the UN has also thrown his weight behind opposition leaders in Pakistan,who are threatening to boycott the upcoming parliamentary elections unless Musharraf ends emergency rule imposed earlier this month.

"I would hope that the Pakistani government would do more, including the lifting of emergency measures as well as release detained political leaders," Ban said in Brazil Monday, according to a Reuters report.

Musharraf announced Sunday an election would be held by Jan. 9, but did not set a deadline for when the state of emergency would end.

Opposition leaders said they are seriously considering boycotting that election if emergency rule measures, imposed on Nov. 3, persist. The measures include a banon rallies, such as the cross-country protest caravan that Benazir Bhutto, a formerprime minister and leader of the largest opposition party, planned to start on Tuesday fromthe eastern city of Lahore.

Pakistani authorities attempted to thwart the protest by placing Bhutto under house arrest in Lahore on Monday, for the second time in four days. The governmentsaid the planned procession wasin violation of the emergency rule. Police said the house arrest was meant to last for seven days.

Clashes expected between police, Bhutto supporters

Farzana Raja, a spokesman for Bhutto's Pakistan Peoples Party, vowed the party's supporters would fight any attempt by authorities to block her "freedom march"— a three-day,300-kilometre procession from Lahore to Islamabad.

"If police try to stop us, in every town and district of Punjab, there will be a battlefield between PPP activists and police," Raja said.

Reporting from Lahore, the CBC's Adrienne Arsenault said that clashes between protesters and police, who are posted outside the residence where Bhutto is staying, are anticipated.

"[Bhutto] is well aware that there will be clashes potentially between her supporters and police, and everyone is looking at this as yet another day perhaps not only to get people talking about this but another day for the political theatre of this," Arsenault said.

Suspension isn't the answer: Axworthy

The announcement by the Commonwealth followed a meeting in London of representatives from nine member countries, including Canada's high commissioner to the United Kingdom, Jim Wright.

Pakistan was suspended from the Commonwealth in 1999 following a military coup led by Musharraf, but reinstated in 2004 after the general agreed to stand down as army chief.

Former Canadian foreign minister Lloyd Axworthy, who led the committee that recommended the suspension eight years ago, told CBC News he did not expect aquick resolution to the current crisis.

Hesaid hewould not recommend suspending Pakistan from the Commonwealth again.

"Things have got to at least follow through by some direct diplomatic efforts in the form of soft intervention," Axworthy told CBC News.

"There are so many issues going on in Pakistan right now that to do it sitting in a roundtable in London is not really going to get to the grips of it."

Opposition deciding between 'elections or agitation'

According to Musharraf, emergency rule measureswere necessary to ensure "absolutely fair and transparent elections" and to strengthen the fight against Islamic militants threatening Pakistan.

His critics, however, argue that Musharraf imposed emergency rule ahead of a Supreme Court ruling that could have denied his plans to serve another five-year term as president.

"Under the current circumstances, it is very difficult to expect there would be fair elections in the country," said Raja Zafarul Haq, chairman of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League party. "Within the next week, there will be meetings and we will finally decide whether to go for elections or agitation."

He demanded restoration of the constitution that was suspended under the emergency rule, reinstatement of top judges purged by Musharraf and the release of detainees, as well as Sharif's return from exile.

With files from the Associated Press