Pak government in isolation against army, courts

Pak government in isolation against army, courts

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Islamabad:  In the midst of a continuing army-government stand-off, Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari on Thursday surprisingly flew to Dubai but fears of a military coup waned with the focus shifting to a crucial hearing by the Supreme Court on Monday. (Read: Amid crisis, Zardari heads to Dubai)

Both the powerful army and the government held back their fire a day after Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani summarily sacked Defence Secretary Naeem Khalid Lodhi, a retired General backed by the army, after he appeared to have toed the line of the military in a case before the apex court.

Speculation that Mr Gilani may act against the Army Chief Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and ISI head Lt Gen Shuja Pasha did not come true.

Mr Kayani, however, held a meeting with his top commanders at the General Headquarters in the Garrison city of Rawalpindi. The meeting was attended by both the Principal Staff Officers, or senior generals serving at the General Headquarters, and the Corps Commanders, who head formations across the country, sources said.

The issues that figured at the meeting could not be ascertained and there was no word from the military's media wing.

An emergency meeting of the National Assembly called to discuss the situation arising out of the Supreme Court's order adjourned after paying obituary references to spiritual and political leader Pir Pigara and others. The Assembly will meet again on Friday.

The day's surprise development was the sudden decision of Mr Zardari to go to Dubai on a day's visit to attend the wedding of an undisclosed family friend and to possibly undergo a medical check-up.  He is expected to return home on Friday.

The Supreme Court has scheduled a hearing on Monday of a case relating to alleged corruption at high places in which Mr Zardari figures. It has come down heavily on Mr Gilani for not taking action in such cases and threatened to take action against him.

Observers here were of the view that the army was reluctant to stage a coup which may incur the wrath of the Supreme Court. But the possibility that the court may take action against Mr Gilani, which could lead to an early poll, was being speculated widely. (Watch: Won't back military coup in Pakistan, says Imran Khan)

Mr Gilani has called an emergency session of the National Assembly to consider the situation arising out of Supreme Court's order to the government to reopen high-profile corruption cases, including against Mr Zardari.

Matters came to a head on Wednesday after the military warned that Prime Minister Gilani's criticism of the army and intelligence chiefs could have "grievous consequences" and the premier sacked the Defence Secretary, considered close to the Army Chief.

Meanwhile, the media suggested that both the military and the government address their differences in an atmosphere of sanity to end the standoff bedeviling the country.

Noting that Mr Gilani's criticism of the army and ISI chiefs' actions as "unconstitutional and illegal" would have resulted in a coup 10 or 15 years ago, the influential Dawn newspaper said: "But with a raucous media and a fierce Supreme Court now in the mix, the space for a direct and unconstitutional intervention by the army appears to have been eroded."

"One week the country pulls back from the brink; the next week it is back on the brink none of it adds up to a prediction that can be made with any degree of certainty. We can only hope that better sense prevails all around," it said in an editorial.

The current political crisis began when Pakistani-American businessman Mansoor Ijaz made public an alleged memo that sought US help to prevent a military coup after the killing of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan in May last year.

The army erupted in fury on Wednesday over criticism from Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani concerning a commission probing the "Memogate" scandal.

The memo has pitted the army against President Asif Ali Zardari's weak civilian administration, and the Supreme Court is now tasked with deciding if the government endorsed the note, and if so, if it can remain in power.

But the accusation by the prime minister in Chinese media this week that the chiefs of the army and main intelligence agency had failed to make their submissions to the court through government channels was bluntly denied by top brass and set the embattled civilian leaders further along a rocky path.

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

General elections had been expected in early 2013, but the predicted date has crept forward as the memo scandal has rumbled on and are now tipped for 2012, with some saying they could take place in the first half of the year.

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