Pakistan Military Denies Conspiracy to Seize Power
By Salman Masood for The New York Times
The military command in Pakistan issued an unusual refutation on Friday of rumors that it was planning to take power, publicizing a pledge by the top general that it is committed to democracy a day after the prime minister warned of conspiracies to subvert the civilian government.
But the pledge, by Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, did little to assuage anxieties about a possible coup in a country with a history of military interventions. The anxieties were reinforced on Thursday by an extraordinary outburst about just such a possibility from the normally soft-spoken prime minister, Yusuf Raza Gilani, who also said the military generals in Pakistan behaved as though they were “a state within a state” and that they should be accountable to Parliament.
“The army will continue to support democratic process in the country,” General Kayani was quoted as saying in a statement issued by the military command. It said General Kayani had made that pledge on Thursday as he visited troops stationed in the northwestern regions of Mohmand and Kurram.
General Kayani “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,” according to the statement by the military.
However, General Kayani stressed that “there can be no compromise on national security,” alluding to the differences with the civilian government over investigations into a contentious memo that suggested the civilian government had sought help from the United States in trying to constrain the Pakistani military.
The public back-and-forth came as the Pakistan military’s relations with the United States, already aggravated by the memo issue, have plunged to new lows over a deadly American-led airstrike on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border last month that killed 26 Pakistani soldiers. Pakistan’s military has rejected results of a Pentagon inquiry that said both sides were at fault but that Pakistani forces opened fire first. In a new sign of the Pakistani military’s anger, a senior official said Friday it had canceled a planned visit by the head of the United States Central Command, Gen. James Mattis, to brief his counterparts on the Pentagon inquiry.
The tensions over the memo began after Mansoor Ijaz, an American businessman of Pakistani origin, wrote an op-ed article for The Financial Times in October saying that a Pakistani diplomat had asked him to deliver a memo to Adm. Mike Mullen, who was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the time, after American commandos killed Osama bin Laden in a May raid on a Pakistan safe house. That raid, which deeply embarrassed Pakistan, raised questions about whether Bin Laden, the most-wanted fugitive Al Qaeda plotter of the Sept. 11 attacks, had been protected by elements of Pakistan’s military and intelligence service. Mr. Ijaz described the memo as saying that the civilian government sought help in preventing a possible coup, offering in exchange to dismantle part of the intelligence service.
Since then, the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party and the powerful military have been arguing over the veracity of the memo , which is seen as authentic by the military and as a conspiracy by the civilian government.
Husain Haqqani, the former ambassador to the United States, was forced to resign in November after allegations that he had orchestrated the memo, a charge he denies. Mr. Haqqani returned to the country and is barred from traveling abroad, a step seen as a violation of his fundamental rights, according to his lawyer.
The top generals have urged the country’s Supreme Court to investigate the origins of the memo. Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry said Friday that the court is pursuing those investigations but that it would not validate any army coup.
The statements by both Mr. Gilani and General Kayani signified that deep mistrust and tensions exist between the two sides.
“Things don’t look stable at all,” said Enver Baig, a former senator, who predicted that the “civil-military relations will not settle down peacefully.”