Pakistan military gives stern warning to PM
ISLAMABAD / KABUL
Pakistani army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani (C) warns the government after Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani (R) accused the powerful army. AP photoPakistan’s military warned yesterday of “grave consequences” for the country after the prime minister accused the army chief of violating the constitution. Around the same time, the prime minister has sacked the defense secretary, in a move likely to ratchet up tension with the country’s powerful military.
Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani’s office said in a statement that Lieutenant General Naeem Khalid Lodhi, a retired general seen as an army representative within the civilian government, was fired for “gross misconduct and illegal action which created misunderstanding” between state institutions. A senior military official said the latest tension was “very serious.”
In December, President Asif Ali Zardari flew to Dubai for medical treatment sparking rumors that he had fled the country anticipating a coup. Army chief General Ashfaq Kayani last month dismissed coup rumors as speculation and said the army supported democracy. Zardari returned after about two weeks.
Tensions between the army and the government of President Asif Ali Zardari have soared since a scandal involving a memo sent to Washington asking for its help in reining in the army broke late last year. The memo outraged the army, and the Supreme Court ordered a probe to establish whether it had been sanctioned by Zardari.
As part of the investigation, army chief Gen. Ashfaq Pervez Kayani and the head of the main spy agency, Lt Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, submitted statements to the court in which they suggested the memo was part of a conspiracy against the army. This week, Gilani said in an interview to a Chinese newspaper that Kayani and Pasha had violated the constitution by doing this. The interview was also published by Pakistan’s state-run news agency.
An army statement said those allegations had “very serious ramifications with potentially grievous consequences for the country.” “There can be no allegation more serious than what the honorable prime minister has levelled against COAS and DG ISI (army chief and spy chief) and has unfortunately charged the officers for violation of the constitution of the country,” said the army’s statement.
Drone strike kills four
Apart from the tension, an American drone strike killed four militants in Pakistan, the first such attack since errant U.S. airstrikes in November killed two dozen Pakistan troops, Pakistani intelligence officials said yesterday.
The attack on Jan. 10 took place in North Waziristan, an al-Qaeda and Taliban stronghold close to the Afghan border that has been pounded by U.S. strikes, the officials said.
American officials say there had been no promise by Washington to avoid drone operations since the deadly Nov. 26 airstrikes along the Afghan border, but that the lull was part efforts to tamp down tensions with Pakistan, seen by many U.S. officials as key to a negotiated peace in Afghanistan. After the American strike, Islamabad shut down vital supply routes into Afghanistan and forced the U.S. to vacate Shamsi Air Base in southwestern Baluchistan province. The U.S. used the base to service drones that targeted militants in the tribal regions close to Afghanistan.
Compiled from AP, AFP and Reuters stories by the Daily News staff.