January 11, 2012

Pakistan fires defense minister, escalating crisis

Published January 11, 2012
| Associated Press

AP/Pakistani Press Information Department
May 9: In this photo released by Pakistan's Press Information Department, Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani delivers a speech at the parliament house in Islamabad, Pakistan.

ISLAMABAD-- Pakistan's government fired the defense secretary Wednesday and the army warned of "grievous consequences" for the country, escalating a political and legal crisis that some believe could end in the dismissal of government.
Retired Lt. Gen. Naeem Khalid Lodhi, an army loyalist seen as a bridge between the generals and the civilian government, was dismissed for "gross misconduct and illegal action" and replaced with a bureaucrat close to Prime Minister Yousuf Reza Gilani, the government said in a statement.

The developments were sign of near-open conflict between the army and the in a nation that has seen repeated military coups in its six-decade history. Relations between President Asif Ali Zardari and the generals have never been good, but have soured dramatically in recent months over a memo sent to Washington asking for its help in reining in the power of the military.

Political instability has dogged the government since it took office in 2008 after a 10-year army dictatorship, and there have been frequent, wrong predictions of its demise since then. While unpopular, the government has a solid majority in parliament and its unclear whether the army or the Supreme Court have the stomach to unseat it midterm.

The current standoff has hampered the nuclear-armed country's ability to battle Al Qaeda and Taliban militants and coincided with the near collapse of ties between Pakistan and the United States, a relationship seen as key to negotiating an end to the war in Afghanistan.

The memo, allegedly masterminded by Pakistan's then envoy to Washington, outraged the army, which portrayed it as a threat to national security. Acting under its pressure, the Supreme Court ordered a probe to establish whether it had been sanctioned by Zardari, something that could lead to impeachment hearings. As part of the investigation, army chief Gen. Ashfaq Pervez Kayani and the head of the main spy agency, Lt Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, submitted statements to the court in which they suggested the memo was part of a conspiracy against the army.

Prime Minister Yousuf Reza Gilani said in an interview to a Chinese newspaper that Kayani and Pasha had violated the constitution by doing this. The interview was also published by Pakistan's state-run news agency. An army statement denied the mens' actions were illegal, and said Gilani's allegations had "very serious ramifications with potentially grievous consequences for the country." It did not elaborate.
An aide to Gilani said Lodhi was fired because of his role in submitting Kayani and Pasha's statements to the court.

The Supreme Court is at the center of another affair that could also see the dismissal of the government. It has ordered the attorney general to open corruption proceedings against Zardari over a once shelved case, something the government is refusing to do. On Tuesday, judges warned they could dismiss Gilani unless he followed their order to pursue the case. It ordered the government to attend proceedings next week to explain its inaction.

"I think the lines have been drawn, now it depends on who fires the next shot," said Rasul Bakhsh Rais, professor of political science at Lahore University of Management Sciences. "It is a three dimensional war: the judiciary, the political executive and the armed forces."

Observers say political pressure is growing to topple the government before Senate elections scheduled for March, which are expected to give Zardari's party a majority in the upper house that would give him significant political power for the next six years. The country also is to hold general elections next year, although some are pushing for the vote to be held sooner.
Most independent analysts say the army has little appetite for a direct coup but is happy to allow the Supreme Court, believed to be hostile to Zardari, to end the current setup via "constitutional" means.

"We can't rule out those impulses. They are rooted in history, but right now the army have decided not to. Rather they will stay by the sidelines and watch the court," said Rais.

Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/world/2012/01/11/pakistani-official-defense-secretary-dismissed/#ixzz1jCT32T2U

January 11, 2012
Pakistan’s Besieged Government

Pakistan’s civilian governments are typically short-lived and cast aside by military coups. This disastrous pattern could be repeating itself as the current civilian government comes under increasing pressure from the army and the Supreme Court.
On Wednesday, the standoff hardened when Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani fired his defense secretary, Naeem Khalid Lodhi — a retired general and confidante of the army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani — and replaced him with a civilian, Nargis Sethi. Infuriated military officials said they might refuse to work with the new secretary and warned vaguely of “serious ramifications with potentially grievous consequences” after Mr. Gilani publicly criticized them in an interview.

This sort of byzantine infighting is hardly uncommon in Pakistan. But a stable Pakistan is critical to America’s interests in the region. The army should focus on what it can do best: fight the militants working to bring down the state and destabilize the region. For its part, the civilian government needs to deal with Pakistan’s severe economic troubles and repair a political culture in which voices of moderation are increasingly snuffed out.

Tensions have built steadily ever since Husain Haqqani, Pakistan’s former ambassador to Washington, was accused in October of drafting an anonymous memo that purportedly warned of a coup and sought Washington’s help in preventing it.

Mr. Haqqani is now under a Supreme Court investigation instigated by the country’s top generals. Mr. Haqqani denies writing the memo but has never made secret his distaste for the iron rule of Pakistani’s generals, who already felt humiliated by the surprise American raid on Osama bin Laden.

Mr. Haqqani’s passport has been confiscated, and he has taken refuge in Mr. Gilani’s home. The State Department has called for fair and transparent treatment of Mr. Haqqani in line with Pakistani and international law, and it must continue to press that point.

Two Pakistani officials and a journalist were assassinated last year — evidence of the country’s instability and a chilling warning to the few still brave enough to speak up for a tolerant and democratic society.

Pakistan’s Supreme Court is causing further trouble for the prime minister, threatening to remove him from office for failing to comply with court orders to reopen long-ago corruption cases against President Asif Ali Zardari, himself a fierce adversary of the military. According to a report in The Times, many Pakistani officials suspect the military is using the judiciary to weaken — even topple — the government before the March election for the Senate, which Mr. Zardari’s party is expected to win.

No civilian government in Pakistan has ever finished its term. This one has survived longer than the others and is up for re-election by 2013. Every effort must be made to have that vote go forward so another — and, one hopes, more competent — civilian government can succeed it. The court needs to stay out of politics and focus on building a fair, unbiased legal system. Likewise the military. The generals say they don’t want to govern, but no civilian will ever be able to do a competent job if the military keeps pulling the strings. Although relations with Pakistan are at an all-time low, the United States should keep engaging the country’s civilian leaders and encouraging its civil society whenever possible.


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