Pakistan army chief dispels fears of coup
ISLAMABAD PAKISTAN’S army chief on Friday categorically denied that the military was plotting to seize power, confronting head on frenzied speculation that the government’s days are numbered.
The army issued the statement from General Ashfaq Kayani after Pakistan’s top judge also ruled out the possibility of a coup as he examined calls from the army and the opposition to probe a scandal threatening the government.
“He strongly dispelled the speculations of any military takeover and said that these are misleading and are being used as a bogey to divert the focus from the real issues,” it quoted Kayani as saying.
The general made the remarks while addressing troops in the tribal belt near the Afghan border on Thursday. When asked by AFP why it took 24 hours to release his remarks, military officials refused to elaborate.
“The Pakistan Army has and will continue to support the democratic process in the country. The army is fully cognisant of its constitutional obligations and responsibilities,” Kayani was quoted as saying.
The general added that “irrespective of all other considerations, there can be no compromise on national security,” without elaborating on his meaning.
Although few believe the military has the appetite for a coup, speculation has refused to die that President Asif Ali Zardari could be forced out over scandal and illness, which saw him undergo treatment in Dubai this month.
On Thursday, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani delivered an unprecedented tirade against the military and accused “conspirators” — whom he did not name — of plotting to bring down his government.
Tensions have been rising between the armed forces, which has carried out three coups in Pakistan and is considered the chief arbiter of power in the country of 174 million, and Zardari’s weakened government.
“Point of no return?” asked newspaper The News on Friday, writing: “A spectre is haunting Pakistan — the spectre of a clash between the army and the government that threatens to turn fatal”.
It remained unclear Friday whether Kayani’s remarks would ease tensions with the government.
Conspiracy theorists have also eyed an alliance between the Supreme Court and the military, although it remains unclear how they could unseat an elected president, who has survived a string of crises during three years in power.
The Supreme Court is deliberating whether to order a probe into allegations that Zardari’s ambassador to Washington wrote asking for US help to prevent a feared coup and reign in the military’s power in May.
Husain Haqqani flatly denies the accusations from a US businessman but was forced to resign as ambassador last month.
US air strikes that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers on November 26 have plunged the precarious Pakistani-US alliance to its lowest ebb in a decade with both sides in dispute about the precise sequence of events.
Pakistan on Friday rejected a US inquiry that blamed both sides for a series of mistakes that led to the deadliest single cross-border attack of the 10-year war in Afghanistan.
The Americans acknowledged for the first time significant responsibility, but insisted their troops responded only after coming under heavy machine-gun and mortar fire, angering Islamabad, which has denied the claims.