LONDON, Nov 7 (Reuters) Pakistan could face suspension from the Commonwealth unless it lifts its state of emergency and holds ''fair and free'' elections set for January, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said today.
The 53-nation group of mainly former British colonies has called a special ministerial meeting for next week to discuss Pakistan, where President Pervez Musharraf suspended the constitution and imposed emergency rule at the weekend.
That meeting is likely to set the tone for a November. 23-25 summit in Uganda to be attended by British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and other Commonwealth leaders who Miliband said could discuss suspension.
''Suspension is one of the tools that is available and will no doubt be discussed at the Commonwealth heads of government meeting if there is no change in the situation that we see at the moment,'' Miliband told Parliament.
He also called on Musharraf to release political prisoners, ''energetically'' pursue reconciliation with the opposition, step down as army chief by November. 15 and relax media restrictions.
Pakistan was suspended from the group's councils in 1999 following the military coup that brought Musharraf to power.
Placed under annual review, the country was reinstated to full membership in May 2004 but has remained ever since on the watch list of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group, which will convene on Monday in London to discuss the situation.
Commonwealth Secretary-General Don McKinnonalso said suspension was a possibility. ''It has to be there,'' he told BBC radio. ''This is a serious situation. This is a major setback.'' Pakistan's opposition has demanded Musharraf step down as head of the military, hold elections and restore the constitution, which he said he suspended because of threats from an increasingly hostile judiciary and growing militancy.
Hundreds of lawyers and political opponents have been detained in Pakistan.
AID REVIEW Miliband also suggested British development aid to Pakistan could be reviewed if the situation did not improve.
''I don't believe that this is the time for threats, but ...
the agreement that we have with the government of Pakistan for development aid includes criteria in respect of human rights,'' he told lawmakers.
''Obviously, consequences of these actions which have been taken, if they continue, would have to be taken into consideration.'' Britain is scheduled to give Pakistan 236 million pounds 496 million dolalrs in development aid over 2005-2008 and that will almost double in the three year period to 2011.
Miliband called on Musharraf's administration to declare a specific date for elections and guarantee they are fair.
''It is massively in their interest to provide clarity now about when the elections will take place. They must take place in January and the most suitable time is January. 15, which is when they have been set for,'' he said.
REUTERS NC RK2212