Pakistan denounces Commonwealth suspension as 'unreasonable'

Pakistan's Foreign Ministry is denouncing the Commonwealth's suspension of its membership as "unreasonable and unjustified."

Pakistan's Foreign Ministry is denouncing the Commonwealth's suspension of its membership as "unreasonable and unjustified" and defending the state of emergency imposed by President Gen. Pervez Musharraf.

The Pakistani government said on Friday that the 53-member body, composed mainly of Britain and its former colonies, failed to understand Pakistan's "serious internal crisis" in demanding an immediate restoration of democracy.

Thestatement came as an exiled former prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, appeared poised to return to Pakistan, a move that could bolster opponents of the embattled Musharraf.

Sharif's party announced the planned return on Thursday, hours after the Supreme Court cleared the final legal hurdles to Musharraf's disputed re-election last month over his dual role as army chief and president.

The Supreme Court was purged of independent-minded judges by Musharraf andthen packed with ones friendly to the government.

Musharraf has vowed to give up his army post once the judges ruled on the legitimacy of his next five-year term.

'Committed to restore full democracy'

On Thursday, the Commonwealth voted to suspend Pakistan's membership after Musharraf failed to meet their Thursday deadline to quit the military and end anti-democratic measures.

The international organization last kicked Pakistan out of the Commonwealth in 1999 after Musharraf seized power in a bloodless coup. Membership was reinstated five years later.

Pakistan's Foreign Ministry said from Islamabad that the government is reviewing its ties with the group.

"The pace of progress towards normalcy will be determined by ground realities and legal requirements in Pakistan rather than unrealistic demands from outside," a ministry statement said. The government was "committed to restore full democracy," it said.

Attorney General Malik Mohammed Qayyum said Thursday the emergency would be lifted "very soon" but no date has been set.

Sharif's return could create headaches

Musharraf's spokesperson declined to comment on what the general would do if Sharif —who was ousted byMusharraf in 1999 and is a vehement opponent— returns to the country.

When Sharif tried to re-enter Pakistan in September, he was quickly deported to Saudi Arabia.

His expulsion was supported by Saudi Arabia's government and there is now speculation Sharif has a deal with authorities to allow him to go home.

The re-emergence of a heavyweight rival creates a new headache for Musharraf as he tries to defend the emergency rule against criticism, including from the United States, a key provider of aid.

With files from the Associated Press