PM rejects Army demand, fuels tension in Pakistan

PM rejects Army demand, fuels tension in Pakistan

PM rejects Army demand, fuels tension in Pakistan

Pakistani PM Gilani (R) rejects a demand from Army chief Kayani (C) to clarify statements or withdraw them. The PM accused both Kayani and intel chief Pasha (L). AP photo

Pakistan’s prime minister rejected a demand yesterday from the country’s army chief that he clarify or retract his recent criticism of the military and the spy agency in a move that appears likely to ratchet up tensions even further.

“The prime minister ... is answerable to Parliament,” Yousuf Raza Gilani told reporters in the central city of Vehari. “I will not answer to a person. I am answerable to Parliament.”

Gilani criticized Army Chief Gen. Ashfaq Kayani and the director-general of the Inter-Services Intelligence agency, Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, for filing court papers in a case involving a mysterious memo that has pitted the military against the civilian government.

A senior military source told Reuters on Jan. 14 that Kayani was furious with the prime minister’s statements.

Kayani conveyed the armed forces’ unease to President Asif Ali Zardari in a meeting where they discussed the “current security situation” Jan. 14.

“The army chief complained to the president about the prime minister’s statements, and said they needed to be either clarified or withdrawn,” the source said. “He said such statements were divisive and made the country more vulnerable.”

In an interview with Chinese media, Gilani said Kayani and Pasha’s filings were “unconstitutional,” infuriating the military’s high command, who issued a stern press release.

‘Army is the pillar of the nation’

Gilani moved to calm the tension late on Jan. 14, saying the civilian leadership fully supported the military.

“The armed forces of Pakistan are a pillar of the nation’s resilience and strength. The nation applauds their heroic services in the defense of the motherland,” Agence France-Presse quoted Gilani as telling a scheduled meeting of the Cabinet Defense Committee.

“Our government and Parliament and, above all, our patriotic people have stood fully behind our brave armed forces and security personnel,” he said.

The meeting, which also drew Kayani, was to finalize 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 NATO strikes on Nov. 26 that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers, Islamabad closed its main trading route to Afghanistan, choking a major supply line for the 130,000-strong U.S.-led force.

Gilani told the meeting that Pakistan had been cooperating with the international community but that the “cooperation is based on a ‘partnership’ approach, which entails mutual respect, trust and mutual interest.”

“Pakistan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity are not negotiable. We would reject any approach that would tend to compromise our sovereignty, honor and national dignity,” he said.

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