x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Gilani moves to diffuse tensions with Pakistan military

The Pakistan prime minister says the civilian government fully supports the military.

ISLAMABAD // Pakistan's prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani has moved to calm mounting tensions between the government and the armed forces, saying the civilian leadership fully supports the military.

His comments came after a confrontation with the military over a probe into the government's role in a scandal stemming from a mysterious memo that sought US help in curbing the army's power and in thwarting a possible coup attempt.

"The armed forces of Pakistan are a pillar of the nation's resilience and strength," Mr Gilani told a meeting of the cabinet defence committee late Saturday.

"The nation applauds their heroic services in the defence of the motherland.

"Our government and parliament and above all our patriotic people have stood fully behind our brave armed forces and security personnel."

The meeting, in which Mr Gilani called for national unity, was attended by army chief General Ashfaq Kayani, widely regarded as Pakistan's most powerful figure, as well as several other top military officials.

Gen Kayani also held talks with President Asif Ali Zardari Saturday and government officials in Islamabad said both meetings would help defuse the mounting tensions between the civilian and military leadership.

Pakistan has been under military dictatorships for about half its history since independence in 1947, with civilian leaders thrown out in three coups.

But despite current tensions, analysts say another coup is unlikely and they instead predict early elections, possibly in the first half of this year.

The "Memogate" scandal centres on an unsigned note allegedly sent by an aide of Zardari to the US military last May, apparently to avert a possible coup after the killing of Osama bin Laden.

The Supreme Court has been tasked with deciding whether the government endorsed the note, and if so, if it can remain in power.

Mr Gilani earlier this week accused the army and intelligence chiefs of failing to make their submissions to the commission investigating the memo through government channels, in an unusually bold interview with Chinese media.

The army vociferously denied Mr Gilani's accusation and said it had passed its response through the defence ministry to the court in accordance with the law, ratcheting up tensions between the two sides.

Saturday's defence committee meeting was to finalise recommendations for new rules of engagement with Nato following the deadly November air strikes which put further stress on an already fragile relationship between Washington and Islamabad.

After the Nato strikes on November 26, which killed 24 Pakistani soldiers, Pakistan closed its main trading route to Afghanistan, choking a major supply line for the 130,000-strong US-led force.

Islamabad rejects the coalition's report that blamed the incident on mistakes by both sides and has not said when it will reopen the route.

Mr Gilani told the meeting that Pakistan has been co-operating with the international community but the "cooperation is based on a 'partnership' approach, which entails mutual respect, trust and mutual interest".

Mr Gilani said a full review of the terms of cooperation with the United States, Nato and the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) is in process.

"We hope that decisions in this regard will be in line with the aspirations of our people and go a long way in preserving and protecting our national interests and promote peace in the region," he said.