Pakistan army steps up confrontation with government [Guardian]

The confrontation between Pakistan‘s civilian government and its army has turned into a bitter open clash, with the military saying that remarks made by the prime minister had “potentially grievous consequences for the country”.

The military and the government are at loggerheads over a scandal dubbed “memogate”, in which the former ambassador to Washington is accused of making a “treacherous” written offer to the US to rein in Pakistan’s military, in return for American support for the civilian government. The case, aimed squarely against President Asif Ali Zardari, is before the supreme court. It has appointed a judicial commission which began hearings this week.

The prime minister, Yousaf Raza Gilani, said this week that affidavits to the court by the army chief and the head of the military’s spy agency were “unconstitutional and illegal”.

The military responded on Wednesday with a highly unusual statement in which it said that “no allegation more serious” could be levelled against the army chief, General Ashfaq Kayani, and the director general of Inter-Services Intelligence, Lieutenant-General Ahmed Shuja Pasha.

“This has very serious ramifications with potentially grievous consequences for the country,” the military said.

It is thought that the military is trying to remove Zardari and that his determination to hang on could end in another coup. There is speculation that, to pre-empt the move, the government could try to sack the army chief.

In their written testimonies to the court, Kayani and Pasha pressed the judges to investigate the allegations against the former US envoy, Husain Haqqani. The government has asked the court to drop the case and leave a parliamentary committee to investigate. The government was furious that the military’s affidavits had not been cleared by it first, though technically they were filed through the government’s attorney general.

In his affidavit, Pasha said that he had seen “enough corroborative material” to prove the allegations against the former Washington ambassador, who was forced to resign over the issue.

The military insisted in its statement that it had followed the book in responding to the court proceedings.

The government on Wednesday removed the retired general who was the top bureaucratic in the defence ministry and replaced him with a Pakistan Peoples Party loyalist.

The army has reportedly called a meeting of senior commanders for Thursday. The army has staged four coups in the past, with democracy restored in 2008 after the latest period of military rule.

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