Pakistan PM Seeks to Dispel Rumors of Army Rift
By Chris Brummitt for Boston.com
Pakistan’s prime minister dismissed speculation of a rift between the government and the military over a secret memo sent to Washington seeking its help in averting a supposed military coup, saying the country was committed to democracy.
Political tensions have soared in recent days as the Supreme Court begins a hearing into the circumstance surrounding the memo. The absence of President Asif Ali Zardari, recovering from a likely “mini stroke” in his Dubai home with no word on his return, has only added to rumors that the current civilian administration is in possible fatal trouble.
Zardari’s plentiful critics are hoping the scandal will lead to his ouster, and delighted in portraying his trip to Dubai on Dec. 6 as a flight from the fallout from the memo. The president’s aides have denied that, and most independent analysts believe the veteran politician, who has outlasted numerous predictions of his demise since taking office in 2008, will ride it out.
Late Friday, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani met with army chief Gen. Ashfaq Pervez Kayani to discuss the memo.
Gilani said in a statement he rejected the nation of a “standoff” between the army and the government.
“The government of Pakistan and its institutions remain committed to their constitutional roles and obligations to a democratic and prosperous future for Pakistan,” he said.
Tensions between the army and the government could complicate American attempts to rebuild ties with a country seen by many U.S. officials as key to shepherding peace in Afghanistan. A raid by the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan in late November killed 24 Pakistani soldiers, hammering relations already strained by American suspicions that Islamabad is playing both sides in the Afghan war and virulent anti-U.S. sentiments inside Pakistan.
Pakistan has a long history of army coups or behind the scenes meddling by the generals to engineer pliant regimes, often with the support of the judiciary. That has left the country’s 180 million people specially receptive to the idea that the collapse of the government is just around the corner.