Pakistan army issues angry warning over PM comments
ISLAMABAD - Agence France-Presse
Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani gestures during an interview with The Associated Press at his residence in Lahore, Pakistan, Monday, Dec. 5, 2011. AP PhotoPakistan's army warned Wednesday of "grievous consequences" for the country over criticism by the prime minister that has ramped up tensions between the military and civilian leadership.
Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani immediately sacked the top bureaucrat in the defence ministry over the row, with the government saying the official had been the cause of the "misunderstanding" with the military.
The spat centres on a Supreme Court inquiry set up to investigate a controversial unsigned memo allegedly delivered to the US military seeking its help in curbing Pakistan's highly powerful armed forces in May.
Gilani earlier this week accused the army and intelligence chiefs of failing to make their submissions to the commission through government channels, in an unusually bold interview with Chinese media.
The army issued a statement on Wednesday vociferously denying Gilani's accusation and saying it had passed its response through the defence ministry to the court in accordance with the law.
"There can be no allegation more serious than what the honourable prime minister has levelled against COAS (army chief General Ashfaq Kayani) and DG ISI (spy chief Lieutenant General Ahmad Shuja Pasha) and has unfortunately charged the officers for violation of the constitution of the country," said the army's statement.
"This has very serious ramifications with potentially grievous consequences for the country." Kayani returned on Tuesday from China and met on Wednesday with the head of Myanmar's air force in Rawalpindi.
Pakistan has seen three military coups since independence in 1947. It has spent about half of its life under military dictatorships.
The current civilian administration headed by Zardari has lurched from crisis to crisis since coming to power in 2008 following elections held a month after the assassination of his wife, former prime minister Benazir Bhutto.
Defence secretary Naeem Khalid Lodhi was fired over what the government called a "misunderstanding" between Gilani and the top brass caused by his failure to pass court submissions through the prime minister's office.
"Prime minister has terminated the contract of defence secretary Naeem Khalid Lodhi for gross misconduct," a senior government official told AFP.
The army's statement cast doubt on the government's claim, saying that Gilani had issued a press release last month apparently approving the army's replies to the court as being made "through proper channel".
The statement also defended submissions made to the memo inquiry as in accordance with the military's obligation to "state the facts".
The highly controversial memo was allegedly an attempt by President Asif Ali Zardari, through Husain Haqqani -- a close aide and then-ambassador to the United States -- to enlist help from the US military to head off a feared coup in Pakistan.
American businessman Mansoor Ijaz has claimed that Zardari reportedly feared that the military might seize power in a bid to limit the hugely damaging fallout after US Navy SEALs killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan in May.
Tension between the army and Zardari's weak civilian administration soared over the note, allegedly delivered to then chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen in May and made public by Ijaz in October.
Pakistan's Supreme Court last week decided to set up a judicial commission to investigate the matter and Pasha, the head of the ISI intelligence agency, has called for a "forensic examination" of the memo.
Haqqani has already resigned over the affair and the court has stopped him from leaving Pakistan. At the second meeting of the commission held on Monday, he repeated his denial of any involvement in the scandal.
The commission, being held in Islamabad, is to meet again on January 16 and is expected to submit its findings within four weeks.
The probe puts fresh pressure on the president, who visited Dubai in December over health fears, with most observers expecting early elections sometime in 2012.