Prime Minister's criticism of Army, ISI chiefs draws fire; Defence Secretary sacked
Pakistan's powerful Army on Wednesday warned Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani of “grievous consequences” for his criticism against the military and the Inter-Services Intelligence, the confrontation escalating as he sacked the Defence Secretary, a retired general and a close aide of the Army chief.
On a day of fast-paced developments, the Army issued a terse statement against the Prime Minister, hitting back at him for his allegations that depositions by Army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and Lt. General Shuja Pasha in the Supreme Court in the memo scandal were “illegal and unconstitutional.”
The Army said the Prime Minister's remarks, which he was quoted as making in an interview to the Chinese portal, People's Daily's Online, had “very serious ramifications with potentially grievous consequences for the country.”
As speculation mounted on the fate of the four-year-old Pakistan People's Party government after its open confrontation with the Army, the Prime Minister dismissed Defence Secretary Lt. Gen. (retd.) Naeem Khalid Lodhi, considered close to General Kayani.
There was a change in the Army, too, with a new commander, Brigadier Sarfaraz, appointed to head the 111 Brigade, the Rawalpindi-based Army unit that has traditionally played a vital role in military coups.
General Kayani convened a meeting with his key military aides at the General Headquarters and is expected to review the situation with his Corps Commanders on Thursday.
Mr. Gilani sacked the Defence Secretary with immediate effect for “gross misconduct and illegal action,” a statement issued by the Prime Minister's Office said.
Weeks ago, the official had told the Supreme Court that the Army and the ISI were outside the operational control of the government. According to the statement, the action against Lodhi was taken “for creating misunderstanding between the state institutions.”
Cabinet Secretary Nargis Sethi, known to be close to Mr. Gilani, was given additional charge of the post of Defence Secretary, the statement said.
Quoting an unnamed military official, The New York Times reported that the “the Army will not react violently, but it will not cooperate with the new secretary defence.”
Late in the evening, Pakistani channels reported that Mr. Gilani would address the nation, but this was quickly denied by a PMO spokesperson.
The beleaguered Gilani government is already on a collision course with the judiciary, with the Supreme Court warning on Tuesday that action could be taken against both the President and the Prime Minister for failing to act on a court order to reopen the corruption case against President Asif Ali Zardari.
Earlier, Mr. Zardari refuted reports that he had offered to resign at a meeting of his Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and its allies on Tuesday night. The statement from the Army was unusually strong. “There can be no allegation more serious than what the honourable Prime Minister has levelled against the Chief of the Army Staff and the Director-General, ISI, and has unfortunately charged the officers for violation of the constitution of the country,” it said.