Pakistan’s top military and civilian leaders were set to meet on Saturday in a closed-door session to discuss new rules on coordinating with the United States and NATO, officials said. Islamabad’s uneasy alliance with the U.S. was brought to the brink of collapse by November air-strikes which killed Pakistani soldiers.
The meeting could also provide an opportunity for reconciliation between the military and the civilian government after a week of escalating tensions and rumours of a coup on the horizon.
Saturday’s meeting of the government’s Defence Committee was called to discuss recommendations from Parliament about new terms of engagement with the United States and NATO, according to a senior security official and defence ministry official. Both spoke anonymously because of the sensitivity of the issue.
Pakistan set up this committee after errant air-strikes near the Afghan border killed 24 Pakistani troops. The incident prompted Islamabad to shut NATO and U.S. supply routes running into Afghanistan through Pakistan.
Khursheed Ahmed, a member of parliament’s national security committee, said lawmakers had recommended that the Islamabad seek “guarantees” from Washington that it would respect Pakistan’s sovereignty and avoid any future violations of the country’s borders. He declined to say what such guarantees would look like or any other details.
Both army chief Gen. Ashfaq Pervez Kayani and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani are expected to attend, bringing the two men into the same room together at a time when the civilian and military sides of the government have appeared increasingly divided.
The army has staged at least three coups in Pakistan’s six-decade history. It still considers itself the true custodian of the country’s interests. On Wednesday, it warned of “grievous consequences” for the country in an unusual statement, setting off the latest round of coup fears.
Also on Wednesday, Mr. Gilani fired the Defence secretary in a rare display of civilian government assertiveness against the army. And then on Thursday, President Asif Ali Zardari flew to Dubai for a wedding. He returned the next day, but the trip renewed speculation that he might flee Pakistan if he felt he was about to lose power.
On Friday, Mr. Gilani called for a “show of confidence” vote in parliament to support of the government. Lawmakers will vote on the resolution Monday.
Mr. Gilani said then that the parliament must choose between “democracy or dictatorship.”
The current standoff between the military and the government can be traced back to a scandal last year in which an unsigned memo was sent to Washington asking for its help in heading off a supposed coup.
Analysts say Gen. Kayani has little appetite for a coup, but they say the generals may be happy to allow the Supreme Court to dismiss the government by “constitutional means.” The court has legitimized early coups.
In the southwest, meanwhile, Pakistani authorities said a court has acquitted three Iranian border guards held on murder charges and will hand them over to Iranian officials.
Pakistan detained the men on January 1 in Baluchistan province for fatally shooting a man as they chased smugglers into Pakistani territory.