Pakistan army, govt on collision course, coup rumours escalate
PTI ISLAMABAD PAKISTAN’S powerful army on Wednesday warned Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani of “grievous consequences” for his criticism against the military and ISI as he sacked the Defence Secretary in an open confrontation bringing the country on the brink of a political crisis.
On a day of fast-paced developments, the Army issued a terse statement against Prime Minister Gilani, saying his allegation has “very serious ramifications with potentially grievous consequences for the country”.
As speculation mounted that the fresh crisis may see the ouster of the nearly fouryear- old Gilani government, the Prime Minister dimissed Defence Secretary Lt Gen (retd) Naeem Khalid Lodhi, considered close to Army Chief Ashfaq Parvez Kayani.
The government also brought in Brigadier Sarfaraz Ali as the new commander of Rawalpindi-based army unit that has traditionally played a vital role in military coups.
The unusually-strong Army rebuff came two days after Gilani told a state-run Chinese portal that Kayani and ISI chief Lt Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha had acted in an “unconstitutional and illegal” manner by filing affidavits on the memo issue in the Supreme Court without obtaining the government’s prior permission. “There can be no allegation more serious than what the honourable 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,” the army statement said.
Meanwhile, the army also changed the commander of a Rawalpindi-based unit that has traditionally played a vital role in military coups as army chief Gen Kayani gathered his key aides to assess an escalation in tensions with the civilian government.
Brig Sarfaraz Ali, the new commander of the 111 Brigade, will be part of the X Corps and has usually been called out during past military takeovers to take over key buildings and installations in Islamabad and Rawalpindi, sources said.
The change of the commander of the brigade could be part of “posturing” by the powerful military as tensions increased with the Pakistan People’s Party-led government over the memo scandal, the sources said.
In a related development, Gen Kayani held a meeting with his Principal Staff Officers at the General Headquarters after the Prime Minister sacked defence secretary Lt Gen (retired) Khalid Naeem Lodhi, considered to be very close to the army chief.
Kayani was expected to hold another meeting on Thursday with his PSOs and Corps Commanders, sources said.
Lodhi was sacked by Gilani minutes after the military warned there could be “grievous consequences” for the premier’s remarks that the army and Inter-Services Intelligence chiefs had violated the Constitution in their handling of the memo scandal.
The weak civilian government and the powerful military have been at loggerheads for the past few months over the alleged memo that had sought US help to prevent a feared coup after the killing of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan in May last year.
Gilani said on Monday that the army and ISI chiefs had not sought or obtained approval from the government for replies on the memo issue that they had filed in the Supreme Court. He contended that their actions were “unconstitutional and illegal”. The military hit back on Wednesday in a terse statement that said Gilani’s remarks had “very serious ramifications with potentially grievous consequences for the country”. A statement from Gilani’s office said the Defence Secretary was sacked for creating misunderstandings between state institutions over the memo issue.
Meanwhile, a spokesperson of the Prime Minister’s office has said that PM Gilani has no plans to address the nation against the backdrop of an escalation of the row between Pakistan’s civilian government and the powerful military over the memo scandal, .
The spokesperson for the Prime Minister’s House categorically denied reports on TV news channels that Gilani would address the nation .
“There is no decision by the PM to address the nation,” the spokesperson said shortly after Gilani sacked defence secretary Lt Gen (retd) Khalid Naeem Lodhi for creating misunderstandings between state institutions over the memo issue.
Gilani acted soon after the military reacted angrily to his remarks that the army and ISI chiefs had acted in an “unconstitutional” manner while filing replies in the Supreme Court on the alleged memo that had sought US help to stave off a feared military coup after the killing of bin Laden in May last.