ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — An increasingly public battle between the military and the civilian government of this nuclear-armed nation escalated Wednesday, as the army warned that Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani’s recent criticism of its chief could have “grievous consequences” and Gilani fired his defense secretary.
Adding intrigue to the drama, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari flew on Thursday to Dubai, United Arab Emirates, where he underwent medical treatment last month. An official in Zardari’s office said he was going to attend a medical checkup and a wedding and would return within two days. Meanwhile, the army chief held an emergency meeting with his top generals at army headquarters in Rawalpindi, fueling speculation about the military’s plans.
(Pakistan Defense Ministry/AFP/Getty Images) - Pakistan’s now-former defense minister, Naeem Khalid Lodhi, was sacked by Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani on Wednesday for \"gross misconduct.”
The developments sent Pakistan’s crisis-prone politics into a new tailspin, hardening a standoff that some analysts say could bring down the unpopular government. The turmoil appears likely to distract from efforts to repair frayed relations between the United States and Pakistan, complicating U.S. hopes of securing Pakistani support as it withdraws from neighboring Afghanistan.
The current civilian-military tensions in Pakistan center on an unsigned memo that was delivered to the Pentagon in May, requesting help for the Islamabad government in halting a possible military coup and curbing the army’s power. The memo infuriated the army, and Pakistan’s Supreme Court is investigating the document’s origin and whether it was approved by the president. The government has denied involvement.
But as pressure mounts, the elected government has repeatedly lashed out at the army, which is viewed as Pakistan’s most potent force. Last month, Gilani denounced what he called a “state within a state” and suggested that a military coup plot was in the works. Two days ago, Gilani told a Chinese newspaper that Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, the army chief, and Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, the head of Pakistan’s top spy agency, had acted illegally and violated the constitution by submitting affidavits about the memo case to the court.
On Wednesday, Gilani fired his defense secretary, retired Lt. Gen. Naeem Khalid Lodhi, accusing him of “gross misconduct and illegal action” and of “creating misunderstanding between the state institutions” by not following government procedures for submitting the Kayani and Pasha affidavits. Lodhi, who was considered close to the army, embarrassed Gilani last month by submitting a statement to the Supreme Court saying that the government had no “operational control” over the army or intelligence services. He was replaced by a civilian loyal to Gilani, local media reported.
Hours earlier, the army had issued a statement denying that the affidavits filed by Kayani and Pasha were improper and noting that they were submitted through government channels. Gilani’s accusation “has very serious ramifications with potentially grievous consequences for the country,” the statement said, without elaborating.