Pakistan premier praises armed forces amid tension
ISLAMABAD - Agence France-Presse
In this photo taken Saturday, June 11, 2011, Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, right, Pakistani army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, center, and Pakistani intelligence Chief Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, left, attend a meeting in Islamabad, Pakistan. AP PhotoPakistan's prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani has moved to calm mounting tensions between the government and the armed forces, saying the civilian leadership fully supports the military.
His comments came after a confrontation with the military over a probe into the government's role in a scandal centred on a mysterious memo that sought US help in curbing the army's power and triggered fears of another coup.
"The armed forces of Pakistan are a pillar of the nation's resilience and strength," Gilani told a scheduled meeting of the cabinet defence committee late Saturday.
"The nation applauds their heroic services in the defence of the motherland.
"Our government and parliament and above all our patriotic people have stood fully behind our brave armed forces and security personnel." The meeting, in which Gilani called for national unity, was attended by army chief General Ashfaq Kayani, widely regarded as Pakistan's most powerful figure, as well as several other top military officials.
Kayani also held talks with President Asif Ali Zardari Saturday and government officials in the capital Islamabad said both meetings would help defuse the mounting tensions between the civilian and military leadership.
Pakistan has been under military dictatorships for about half its history since independence in 1947, with civilian leaders thrown out in three coups.
But despite current tensions, analysts say another coup is unlikely and they instead predict early elections, possibly in the first half of this year.
The "Memogate" scandal centres on an unsigned note allegedly sent by an aide of Zardari to the US military last May, apparently to avert a possible coup after the killing of Osama bin Laden.
The Supreme Court has been tasked with deciding whether the government endorsed the note, and if so, if it can remain in power.
"I am not answerable to any individual. I am an elected prime minister and representing 180 million people and according to constitution I am answerable to the parliament," Gilani told reporters in central Punjab province Sunday.
Asked about the possibility of a coup, he added: "If someone wants a new prime minister he should act according to the constitution." Gilani earlier this week accused the army and intelligence chiefs of failing to make their submissions to the commission investigating the memo through government channels, in an unusually bold interview with Chinese media.
The army vociferously denied Gilani's accusation and said it had passed its response through the defence ministry to the court in accordance with the law, ratcheting up tensions between the two sides.
Saturday's defence committee meeting was to finalise recommendations for new rules of engagement with NATO following the deadly November airstrikes which put further stress on an already fragile relationship between Washington and Islamabad.
In the wake of the NATO strikes on November 26, which killed 24 Pakistani soldiers, Pakistan closed its main trading route to Afghanistan, choking a major supply line for the 130,000-strong US-led force.
Islamabad rejects the coalition's report that blamed the incident on mistakes by both sides and has not said when it will reopen the route.
"Pakistan's sovereignty and territorial integrity are not negotiable. We would reject any approach that would tend to compromise our sovereignty, honour and national dignity," Gilani told the meeting. He said a full review of the terms of cooperation with the United States, NATO and the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) is in process. "We hope that decisions in this regard will be in line with the aspirations of our people and go a long way in preserving and protecting our national interests and promote peace in the region," he said.