Pakistan's Gilani welcomes army denial of coup plans

Story highlights

  • Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said he believed plots were underway
  • His provocative comments sparked political intrigue
  • The military denied claims of a coup in the making
  • Pakistan has spent several decades under military rule
Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani tempered political sizzle Saturday by welcoming a statement by the army chief that dispelled notions of a military coup.
"The army chief issued a statement yesterday. It is extremely well taken in the democratic circles," Gilani said.
The Pakistani military said Friday that the "Army has and will continue to support democratic process in the country."
Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the chief of staff, "dispelled the speculations of any military takeover and said that these are misleading and are being used as a bogey to divert the focus from the real issues," the military statement said.
Fears of a clash between Pakistan's civilian leadership and its powerful military escalated after Gilani said Thursday that he believed plots were under way to topple the government.
The military has staged three coups and Pakistan has been under military rule for several decades in its 64-year history.
That history coupled with widespread controversy over a scandal dubbed "Memogate" prompted buzz over Gilani's provocative comments.
"Government, Army on collision course," read a headline in the leading English language newspaper Dawn. "Gilani takes army head on," said The Nation, another major daily.
The papers appeared to be interpreting Gilani's comments Thursday, in which he said there were "conspiracies and intrigues being hatched to pack up the elected government," as an implicit attack on Pakistan's powerful military, which has seized power from civilian authorities a number of times in the country's 64-year history.
Gilani said no institution "can be a state within a state" and that "every ministry, including the Ministry of Defense, is answerable to the Parliament of Pakistan."
Gilani struck a conciliatory tone Saturday.
"We have been trying to remain on the same page (with the military) for the last four years," he said.
In Memogate, Pakistan's civilian leaders were supposedly coming up with a plan to unseat the military leadership.
Gilani's statements also come amid a turbulent period in Pakistan's relations with the United States.
The U.S. killing of Osama bin Laden during a May raid on a compound located only about a mile from the Pakistan Military Academy in Abbottabad enraged the Pakistani public and deeply embarrassed the military.
Relations became even more strained in November, after NATO forces killed two dozen Pakistani soldiers in airstrikes near the Afghan border -- an attack the United States insists was an act of self-defense after troops were fired upon.
Amid heavy domestic pressure in Pakistan, President Asif Ali Zardari's government made decisions unpopular with the United States, such as stopping the transport of NATO supplies through Pakistan and asking the U.S. military to vacate the Shamsi air base.
The Memogate scandal has emboldened Zardari's opponents, who think he favors closer ties with the U.S. military.
Husain Haqqani, the former Pakistani ambassador to the United States who resigned in November, is accused of writing a memo setting out the scheme.
The plot reportedly called for taking power away from the country's senior military and intelligence leaders, requesting U.S. assistance in stopping a military coup, asking for American backing of the Zardari government, and vowing to make Pakistan's foreign policy favorable to the United States.
Haqqani says he didn't write the memo, which allegedly was passed along to U.S. officials by Pakistani-American businessman Mansoor Ijaz days after a U.S. military raid killed bin Laden in May.
Following petitions filed by different people -- including Nawaz Sharif, the head of the major opposition party -- the Supreme Court of Pakistan has been investigating the Memogate scandal for a couple of weeks.
Complicating matters further, Zardari traveled to Dubai for medical reasons earlier this month, fueling speculation in Pakistan that the embattled leader may resign. Zardari has since returned to Pakistan.