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Pakistan army chief rules out coup after Gilani's warning

The military said Gen Kayani 'strongly dispelled the speculations of any military takeover and said these are misleading and being used as a bogey to divert the focus from the real issues'.

ISLAMABAD // Pakistan's army chief ruled out the possibility of a military coup in an apparent move to avert political turmoil in the country.

The army chief, General Pervez Kayani, responded to the prime minister, who had expressed fears that plans were under way to have him removed from his post.

Pakistan's army "has and will continue to support the democratic process in the country. The army is fully cognisant of its constitutional obligations and responsibilities", Gen Kayani told troops stationed along the country's tribal belt near the Afghan border. Gen Kayani's comments were made on Thursday and released by the army yesterday.

The military said Gen Kayani's address to the troops "strongly dispelled the speculations of any military takeover and said these are misleading and being used as a bogey to divert the focus from the real issues".

The prime minister, Yusuf Raza Gilani, in an unusual tirade against the military on Thursday, said a "state within a state" could not be tolerated, in a reference to the army's power. The military has staged three coups and has controls Pakistan's key security and foreign policy matters. Mr Gilani also said conspiracies were under way to overthrow the government.

The rift between the government and the army has widened over a scandal involving a classified memo sent to the US in May asking for US intervention to prevent a possible coup after US navy Seals killed Osama bin Laden.

The request is said to have been made to a senior US military official by Pakistan's ambassador to Washington, Husain Haqqani, at the behest of the president, Asif Ali Zardari. Both Mr Haqqani and Mr Zardari have denied the allegations, but the ambassador has resigned. Pakistan's supreme court has demanded answers from Mr Zardari.

There has also been speculation that Mr Zardari would be forced to step down after he suddenly left for Dubai this month for medical treatment. The president has returned to Islamabad but there are still rumours he may step down.

Officials in the ruling Pakistan People's Party have said the memo was part of a conspiracy to weaken civilian rule and called for a parliamentary investigation into the accusations. The military maintains the memo was a threat to national security and an attempt to demoralise the army.

In an apparent reference to the memo, Gen Kayani said yesterday there could be "compromise on national security".

Analysts said Gen Kayani's remarks may have averted an imminent crisis. "For the time being the crisis has been managed but a new crisis can emerge after a few weeks," the political analyst Hasan Askari Rizvi said.

Meanwhile relations between Pakistan and the US appeared to worsen. Islamabad yesterday rejected a US inquiry that blamed both sides for a series of mistakes that led to the deadliest single cross-border attack of the 10-year war in Afghanistan.

The Americans acknowledged for the first time significant responsibility for the air strikes that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers on November 26, but insisted their troops responded only after coming under heavy machine-gun and mortar fire.

"Pakistan's army does not agree with the findings of the US / Nato inquiry as being reported in the media. The inquiry report is short on facts," the military said in a short statement.

There was no immediate reaction from the government.

 

foreign.desk@thenational.ae

* With additional reporting by Agence France-Presse