Firing of Pakistan’s Defense Sec Raises Army Tension

January 12, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

By Salman Masood

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani fired his defense secretary, a retired general and confidant of Pakistan’s army chief, on Wednesday as the civilian government drew closer to a head-on collision with the country’s powerful military leadership.

Mr. Gilani accused the secretary of defense, Naeem Khalid Lodhi, a former corps commander, of “gross misconduct and illegal action” and of “creating misunderstanding between the state institutions.” He replaced the former general with a civilian aide, Nargis Sethi.

Military officials warned on Wednesday evening that the army would be likely to refuse to work with the newly appointed defense secretary, signaling the possibility of a serious rupture between the army and the civilian government. “The army will not react violently, but it will not cooperate with the new secretary defense,” said a military officer, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the delicacy of the situation.

Tensions had intensified between the government of President Asif Ali Zardari and the army leadership after the publication of a controversial memo, purportedly drafted by the government shortly after an American raid last year killed Osama bin Laden, that solicited help in stopping a possible coup by the humiliated Pakistani military.

Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the army chief, called an emergency meeting of his top commanders on Thursday.

The defense secretary is ordinarily appointed with the consent of the army chief and acts as a bridge between the civilian government and military. The role is more powerful than that of defense minister, a position that is filled by a politician from the governing party.

The firing came as the military warned the prime minister that his recent statements against General Kayani would have “serious ramifications with potentially grievous consequences for the country.”
Mr. Gilani had accused General Kayani and Lt. Gen. Ahmad Shuja Pasha, the head of Pakistan’s intelligence service, of acting as “state within a state” and reminded them they were accountable to the Parliament.

Those statements were seen as suggesting that they could be removed from power.

The defense secretary’s signature is needed for the appointment — or termination — of the members of the military leadership. By installing a secretary defense of its own choice, the civilian government appeared to be seeking greater leverage in dealing with the military.

Speculation about the government’s intentions to dismiss the two commanders were fueled by news reports in the stridently anti-American press in Pakistan, where many people view the United States as an arrogant adversary instead of an ally. That view has increased in the months since the Bin Laden raid last May and the deaths of 26 Pakistani soldiers in an American airstrike near the border with Afghanistan late last year.

Pakistani analysts said the firing of Mr. Lodhi could be a potentially ominous sign that the festering conflict between the army and the civilian government had reached a critical stage.

“It is a desperate measure,” said Ikram Sehgal, a defense analyst and former army officer. “They want the army to react and to make a coup.”

Hasan Askari Rizvi, a military and political analyst, said the firing would only exacerbate the situation for the civilian government. “If the prime minister now tries to fire the army chief, it will have very dangerous consequences,” Mr. Rizvi said.

General Lodhi, who was only recently appointed defense secretary, became embroiled in a controversy last month after he submitted a statement in the Supreme Court on behalf of the Defense Ministry stating that the civilian government had no operational control over the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Pakistan’s powerful spy agency. Mr. Gilani accused Mr. Lodhi of overstepping and objected to his blunt statement, a public acknowledgment that, while the intelligence services are technically under the control of the prime minister, they are widely perceived to act independently of the civilian government.

A military official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly, said that the relationship between the two men broke down after the prime minister’s staff sought to pressure General Lodhi into contradicting statements by the army and spy chiefs about the controversial memo. The military commanders had told Supreme Court last month that the memo, written by a former ambassador to the United States, Husain Haqqani, was authentic and pointed to a conspiracy against the military. The government and Mr. Haqqani have said they had nothing to do with the memo, which came to light in October.

“The government had prepared a draft that stated that the Ministry of Defense does not agree with General Kayani and Genera Pasha’s opinions about the veracity of the memo,” said the military official, who was present during the discussions. “General Lodhi refused to sign the document, saying those were not his words.”

J. David Goodman contributed reporting.

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Forbesganj-Case: Politicians’ Secular Image At Stake

June 16, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, TMO

NEW DELHI: While the Forbesganj incident is proving to be a major embarrassment for Bihar government’s “secular” image, it has made the state’s opposition parties extra-conscious about their “secular” image. Taking the lead are Congress leaders in Bihar. Four Muslims were killed from police firing at Forbesganj in Araria district on June 3. A “clash” between the police and locals also caused injuries to several people, including some policemen. Demanding a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI)-probe into the incident, Bihar Congress leader Mehboob Ali Qaiser has blamed the state’s deputy chief minister Sushil Kumar Modi for the incident. Qaiser alleged that during his visit to Forbesganj on May 29, Modi had apparently pressurized the administration to settle a local dispute over a link road that passed through plot of land allotted to an upcoming starch factory. The agitated mob was apparently against the upcoming factory blocking the only road to their village, which they have been using for the past 50 years. In protest, they had demolished a part of wall constructed by the management of this starch factory. The director of this industrial unit is the son of local Bharatiya Janata Party leader Ashok Kumar Aggarwal.

Qaiser’s implication is that primary purpose of Modi’s Forbesganj-visit was to ensure that local people’s agitation was silenced and the starch factory’s construction was not disturbed. The developments have certainly proved politically more costly than perhaps Modi and his supporters envisaged. The opposition parties are using the opportunity to question the secular and “pro-Muslim” image won by Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. Television footage of the incident and comments made by certain celebrities are helping the Bihar’s opposition leaders further. There is footage of an officer stomping on body of a person injured in the police officer. Questioning the incident, Bollywood filmmaker and social activist Mahesh Bhatt deliberated at a press conference in Patna: “Will chief minister Nitish Kumar allow Bihar to go the Gujarat way?”

Bhatt has raised a valid point as the manner in which police firing took place in Forbesganj is hardly suggestive of an unruly mob having been targeted. If the intention of police was to disperse people agitating against the “wall,” they could have used tear-gas shells, fired in the air or below the agitators’ knees.  The upper parts of victims’ bodies were hit by 15 of 16 bullets, according to post-mortem report. Prospects of the victims being agitators are ruled out by local reports. Eighteen-year-old Mushtaq Ansari, who ran a betel shop to support family, was going to offer Friday prayers when the police picked him and fired four bullets into his torso. When he fell down, the police kicked him brutally. Infant Naushad, was being carried by his mother, when he was killed by two bullets in his back. Six bullets killed Shazmin Khatoon (27), who was pregnant. Mukhtar Ansari (22) succumbed to four police bullets, three in his head.

It may be recalled that despite BJP and his party (Janata Dal-United) being allies, Nitish Kumar did not allow entry of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi during campaign for Bihar assembly elections. Kumar apparently did not want to lose votes of Muslims in Bihar. Against this backdrop, the Forbesganj-incident has provided opposition parties ample political ammunition to question secular credentials of Kumar’s government.

Led by Congress leaders, Ranjit Ranjan and Lalan Kumar, several party activists observed a day-long fast at Kargil Chowk in Patna (June 12). They also held a demonstration there. “We want a judicial probe or an inquiry by CBI within a stipulated period of six months, besides registration of criminal cases against the local administration and policemen,” Kumar told media persons. Besides, he said: “The state government should also dismiss all the officials and policemen involved in the incident.” In addition, the state government must ensure compensation of ten lakh (one million) rupees to bereaved families of each of the deceased, Ranjan said.

The state Congress leaders want Bihar government to ensure a speedy trial and punishment to guilty policemen and officials responsible for firing. They want registration of a case under Section 302 (murder) of the Indian Penal Code against the police officials. They have also demanded registration of a case against local BJP leader Ashok Aggarwal and his arrest.  “Congress workers will protest till the state government registers a case and removes Araria police superintendent of police,” Ranjan said.

Though Kumar ordered a judicial inquiry into the incident soon after its occurrence on June 6, he took more than a week to take other steps. He ordered removal of removal of Forbesganj sub-divisional police officer R.K. Sharma for “dereliction” of duty on June 12. He announced compensation of three hundred thousand rupees to family of seven-month-old boy killed in the police firing. He made these announcements before leaving for China. There was no word on compensation for families of three other victims. He stated: “As a judicial inquiry has been put in place, we will go by its findings and recommendations. Let me make it clear that the guilty will not be spared.”

The opposition leaders and activists, however, are not satisfied with this response of Bihar chief minister. Bihar’s main opposition party, Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) has decided to conduct a probe into the Forbesganj-case and send its report to National Human Rights Commission, the central government and the Bihar Governor. Strongly criticizing the state government, RJD leader Ramchandra Purve said: “Four innocent poor people were killed by police when they were protesting silently… and it is a barbaric act by Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. He is more sensitive and concerned about anything happening outside the state… The RJD will expose his double face over the issue.”

Other opposition parties, including the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) and left parties have also demanded stern action against those involved in Forbesganj-case. They have threatened to protest if the state government fails to take necessary action.

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