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Pakistan’s Gilani: Democracy or dictatorship?

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ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Pakistani lawmakers introduced a parliamentary resolution endorsing democracy Friday as the embattled ruling party sought support from its coalition partners in a civilian-military standoff that is shaking the government.

The resolution, to be debated in Parliament’s lower house Monday, expressed “full confidence and trust” in the civilian government and called on state institutions to function within constitutional bounds. The proposal appears intended to bolster the government amid a scandal over an unsigned memo that has sparked rumors of a looming military coup.

“It must be decided whether there will be democracy in the country or dictatorship,” Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said Friday in Parliament.

Gilani’s unpopular government, which has been in office since a 10-year military dictatorship ended in 2008, is enmeshed in a public duel with the army over the memo, which asked the Pentagon for help restraining the powerful armed forces. The document enraged the army, and a Supreme Court panel is investigating whether it came from the government.

As tensions rose this week, Gilani fired the civilian defense secretary, saying he had violated rules in connection with what the prime minister said were unconstitutional affidavits submitted to the court by the army and spy chiefs. The criticism drew a strong rebuke from the army, which warned of potentially “grievous consequences” for the nation.

Many of the pressures on the government are expected to come to a head Monday, when, in addition to the parliamentary debate, the court panel will resume its hearings in the memo probe. On the same day, the government is scheduled to appear before a separate Supreme Court body to explain why it has flouted several court orders to reopen old corruption cases involving President Asif Ali Zardari.

Although a military coup is viewed as unlikely, either court probe could eventually bring down the government, which maintains that the investigations are politically motivated.

On Friday morning, Zardari returned from a one-day trip to Dubai, United Arab Emirates, quelling speculation — for the second time in as many months — that he was fleeing before the military could oust him. Officials with the ruling Pakistan People’s Party, meanwhile, were working to shore up support for the parliamentary resolution, which is expected to pass. There would be no immediate consequence if it fails, but the government’s already feeble mandate would be weakened.

In a separate development Friday, a commission that spent six months investigating the slaying last year of a Pakistani journalist, Syed Saleem Shahzad, said it had failed to identify the killer.

Human rights organizations, Pakistani journalists and some U.S. officials have accused Pakistan’s spy agencies of killing Shahzad, who had expressed fears that he would be killed by intelligence operatives angered by his reporting on militant groups and their links to the military.

The commission’s report said the Pakistani state was among the possible “belligerents” who may have had a motive in the killing, and it recommended that Pakistani intelligence agencies “be made more law-abiding.”

Tahir Rathore, president of the Rawalpindi-Islamabad Union of Journalists, said he was disappointed. “This commission worked for over six months, and it should have identified the culprits,” Rathore said.

Special correspondent Shaiq Hussain contributed to this report.

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