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.

14-3

Zardari Suffers Heart Attack, May Quit

December 8, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

PAKISTAN-PRESIDENT/

Pakistan’s President Zardari in file photo taken August 2, 2010. Zardari had a minor heart attack and is undergoing treatment in a Dubai hospital, a source said Wednesday.          

REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

Washington: Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari, who abruptly left the Pakistan capital for Dubai, has suffered a minor heart attack and some in the US government believe he may even resign on account of ‘ill-health’, a media report said.

Zardari Tuesday evening left for Dubai to visit his children and also to undergo some medical tests, Pakistan’s official news agency Associated Press of Pakistan had reported.

Though the president’s personal physician Col Salman said the proposed medical tests are of routine nature and are linked to a previously diagnosed cardiovascular condition, the Foreign Policy magazine quoted a former US official as saying that parts of the US government were informed that Zardari had a ‘minor heart attack’ Monday night. He had flown to Dubai via an air ambulance.

Zardari may have to undergo an angioplasty procedure Wednesday and may also resign on account of ‘ill health’, the media report said.

The former US government official told the website that Zardari was ‘incoherent’ when President Barack Obama spoke with him regarding Nov 26 NATO’s killing of two dozen Pakistani soldiers.

Zardari had planned to address a joint session of Pakistan’s parliament on a controversy over a memo to Washington that claimed he feared a military coup after the May 2 commando operation to kill Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

Zardari has been under tremendous pressure since the memo came to light.

‘The noose was getting tighter — it was only a matter of time,’ the former official was quoted as saying.

The ex-official noted the growing expectation inside the US government that Zardari may be on the way out, reported Foreign Policy.

In September, Zardari underwent an angiography at a hospital in Britain where doctors gave him a clean bill of health.

Two surgeons from the US too were involved in the medical check-ups along with the British doctors.

Shuja Nawaz, director of the South Asia Center at the Atlantic Council, in a Tuesday interview said a plan would see Zardari step aside.

Nawaz said: ‘Unfortunately, it means that the military may have had to use its muscle to effect change yet again.’

13-50

Ambassador Haqqani Quits

November 23, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Pakistan’s envoy to U.S. quits in coup memo controversy

By Chris Allbritton

Husain_Haqqani
Husain Haqqani

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States resigned on Tuesday, days after a Pakistani-American businessman said the envoy was behind a controversial memo that accused the Pakistani military of plotting a coup in May.

Envoy Husain Haqqani said in a Twitter message that he had sent his resignation to the prime minister. State television said his resignation had been accepted.

“I have much to contribute to building a new Pakistan free of bigotry & intolerance,” Haqqani said on Twitter. “Will focus energies on that.”

Haqqani became entangled in controversy after the appearance of a column in the Financial Times on Oct 10.

In the column, businessman Mansoor Ijaz said a senior Pakistani diplomat had asked that a memo be delivered to the Pentagon with a plea for U.S. help to stave off a military coup in the days after the May 2 U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden. Ijaz later identified the diplomat as Haqqani.

No evidence has emerged that the military was plotting a coup and Haqqani denies involvement in the memo.

“I still maintain that I did not conceive, write or distribute the memo,” Haqqani told Reuters shortly after he resigned. “This is not about the memo,” he continued. “This is about bigger things.”

He declined to comment further.

Haqqani’s resignation follows a meeting with Pakistan President Asif Zardari, the nation’s powerful army chief General Ashfaq Kayani and its intelligence head Lieutenant-General Ahmad Shuja Pasha.
A spokesman for the prime minister’s office said Haqqani was asked to resign and there would be an investigation into the memo.

Haqqani is close to Zardari but estranged from Pakistan’s military.

Tensions between Pakistan’s civilian government and military have bedeviled the nuclear-armed South Asian country for almost its entire existence, with the military ruling the country for more than half of its 64-year history in a series of coups.

Haqqani’s resignation was seen by many analysts as further weakening the civilian government, which is already beset by allegations of corruption and incompetence.

“They (the military) may expect much more from the government, much more beyond the resignation of Husain Haqqani, because they see that everybody perceived to be involved in this affair will be seen as anti-military and by implication anti-state,” said Imtiaz Gul, a security analyst in Islamabad.

Haqqani’s successor might include a diplomat with a less complicated relationship with the military, perhaps Pakistani Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir or Pakistan’s envoy to the United Nations, Hussain Haroon.

“Whether Pakistan’s people or its military will be represented in DC will become evident when Husain Haqqani’s replacement is announced,” Ali Dayan Hasan, representative for Human Rights Watch in Pakistan, said on Twitter.

It is unclear how far beyond Haqqani “memogate,” as it is called in the Pakistani press, goes.

Ijaz initially said that Haqqani was acting under the authority of Zardari, which has opened up the president to public criticism in Pakistan that he was plotting against his own military.
But Ijaz retreated from that claim and later said he wasn’t sure how involved Zardari was in the memo controversy.

“I don’t know if Haqqani had a blanket power of attorney with Zardari, whether he ever discussed this with Zardari or whether he was acting on his own,” Ijaz told Reuters on Nov 18.
Mark Siegel, a lobbyist who represents the Pakistani government in Washington, said Zardari called him when the Financial Times story appeared, asking his law firm to initiate libel proceedings against the paper and against Ijaz.

Siegel advised Zardari against filing a case because he judged it difficult for a public figure to win a libel case in a U.S. court.

“He was irate and said the memo was a total fabrication,” Siegel said. Siegel, who has known Zardari for 25 years, said he was absolutely certain that Zardari had known nothing about the memo.

(Additional reporting by Zeeshan Haider, Qasim Nauman and Augustine Anthony in Islamabad and Missy Ryan in Washington; Editing by Peter Graff)

13-48