Starting as an instrument of British colonial policy and administration during the Victorian age, it has grown into a voluntary association (comprising 53 sovereign States) for international cooperation and consultation. It has no rigid charter or constitution, and it generally arrives at its decisions through consultation, debate and consensus.
Another important norm or principle is that it does not discuss bilateral disputes amo
ng its member- nations. However in utter disregard of this norm the late Pakistani Prime Minister Ms. Benazir Bhutto tried feverishly to raise the Indo-Pakistani dispute over Kashmir at the Cyprus Summit.
Pakistan also supported a plan for a new humanitarian world order which would have armed the Commonwealth with “intrusive” power into the internal affairs of the member-States, especially in the field of human rights. But, as it happened, it ended up as a loner in each case.
It was not for the first time that Pakistan made a bid to rake up Kashmir at the Commonwealth forum. The late Pakistan Prime Minister Mr. Liaquat Ali Khan had forced the issue in a dramatic fashion at the Commonwealth Summit in London as far back as 1951. But all that the Commonwealth conceded to him was a private dialogue between him and the Indian Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, under the good offices of the Australian Premier, Sir Robert Menzies.
It tried the trick again at the Commonwealth Summit in 1964, which was strongly protested by the leaders of the Indian delegation, Mrs. Indira Gandhi and Mr. T.T. Krishnamachari. The thrust of these Pakistani attempts was to embarrass India at an international forum, despite the fact that it is a gross violation of the Commonwealth norms and international diplomacy.
It is also contrary to the provisions of the Simla Agreement which clearly stipulates that all outstanding disputes between India and Pakistan will be settled through bilateral negotiations.
Following the 1951 and 1964 experiences, there were strong public protests against the abuse of the Commonwealth forum by Pakistan and a demand (voiced in Parliament) for India’s withdrawal from the Commonwealth. But both Pt. Nehru and Mrs. Indira Gandhi resisted this demand on the plea that the Commonwealth was, all told, a useful association of cooperation and consultation.
That argument is valid even today or, perhaps, more valid now than ever before in view of the fact that currently the Commonwealth has a preponderance of Afro-Asian members. Hence, along with NAM. It is a complementary Third World forum.