M A I N   N E W S

Amid Army-govt standoff, Zardari leaves for Dubai
Fears of coup recede but Pakistan remains on the brink
Afzal Khan in Islamabad & Ashish Sen in Washington, D.C.

Islamabad/Washington, January 12
Fervent pleas for ‘sanity’ by the Pakistani media and international pressure may just have averted the possibility of a military coup but political uncertainty and a potentially dangerous standoff between the military and the Government kept Pakistan on the edge today.

Speculators had a field day when President Asif Ali Zardari flew out of the country and landed in Dubai on an unscheduled, private visit. He would be returning on Friday, asaid a Foreign Ministry spokesman.

Army chief General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani held a meeting with senior commanders during the day. The marathon, ten-hour meeting, decided not to compromise on national security and to offer full security to Mansoor Ijaj, the US-based businessman, when he arrives next week to depose before the court on Memogate. Ijaz is the central figure, who had claimed that Pakistan’s former Ambassador to the US had used his services to pass on a memo to Admiral Mike Mullens on behalf of the civilian government seeking US help to rein in the Army.

Significantly, Government spokesmen today claimed that no application for Visa had been received from Ijaz so far. The businessman’s revealation had led to the resignation of Pakistan’s Ambassador to the US. The Ambassador, fearing for his life, has taken shelter in the PM’s official residence in Islamabad.

The corps commanders’ meeting also reviewed the political situation in the wake of reports in the US media, notably The New York Times, that ‘infuriated amy officials have warned” that the military would not cooperate with the new Defence Secretary, Ms Nargis Sethi, who yesterday was asked to take over from the incumbent, a Kayani nominee.

Possibility of a military coup was, however, ruled out by ‘anonymous’ sources in the Army while speaking to the media and also by political observers. While the Army has run out of patience with Zardari, it would like him to be ousted ‘Constitutionally’.

Relations between the military and the civilian government have steadily soured since the dramatic assassination in Pakistan of the al-Qaida leader Osama Bin Laden last year. PM Gilani last month had warned of a conspiracy to topple the government and criticised the military and the ISI, saying there could be “no state within a state”. His criticism of the Army and the ISI chiefs in a conversation with a Chinese media delegation, when General Kayani was in China, made the Army see red.

Curiously, Gilani’s critical reference has not appeared in the Chinese media, either in print or online. It remains a mystery how the statement attributed to Gilani gained currency in Pakistan.

“We are seeing the gradual development of Pakistan’s fifth military dictatorship,” said Bruce Riedel, a former CIA officer and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. “ There will probably be no coup nor a single dictator. Rather the corps commanders are taking over control behind the scenes of all major decisions,” he said, “ a civilian regime will survive but only as a cosmetic cover to army rule.”

No civilian government in Pakistan has lasted its full term and the present government is due to face re-election in 2013. But the government is under intense pressure to call an early election and former cricketer Imran Khan, who has emerged as a powerful political figure, lent his support to the growing chorus and asserted that there was no way out of the impasse except an election.

Imran also warned of street protests in Pakistan, if any attempt was made to ‘ambush the judiciary’. Calling upon the principal opposition party to resign from the National Assembly, he renewed his call for the PPP-led government to be toppled.

He liked Imran as a cricketer but not as a politician, was the riposte from Prime Minister Gilani, who said in a lighter vein that his government was in a more precarious position than Javed Miandad, who in a crucial match against India, had to hit a six off the last ball to snatch a victory.

Gilani, who was interacting with sportspersons at the launch of a new, sports channel of the state-run broadcaster PTV, philosophically added , “politics is a game in which all players should show magnanimity… whether you are winning or losing, we should not make it personal.”

‘Won’t cooperate with new defence secy’ 

New York: Army officials have warned that they won’t cooperate with the new defence secretary appointed by PM Yousaf Raza Gilani after he sacked 
Lt Gen (retd) Naeem Khalid Lodhi. “The Army will not react violently, but it will not cooperate with the new defence secretary,” a military officer was quoted as saying in a New York Times report


Imran warns of street protests if judiciary ‘ambushed’

Lahore: Cricketer-turned politician Imran Khan warned his party would come out on the streets if the judiciary is “ambushed” by the civilian government on the reopening of graft cases against Zardari. He said his party would not support any undemocratic step by the Army to topple the government, even though it wants to get rid of the latter.





HOME PAGE | Punjab | Haryana | Jammu & Kashmir | Himachal Pradesh | Regional Briefs | Nation | Opinions |
| Business | Sports | World | Letters | Chandigarh | Ludhiana | Delhi |
| Calendar | Weather | Archive | Subscribe | Suggestion | E-mail |