File photo of Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and President Asif Ali Zardari at the Presidency. – File Photo—File Photo

ISLAMABAD: The government confirmed on Saturday that a telephone conversation took place between President Asif Ali Zardari and Army chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani on Friday night, strengthening a perception that the civilian and the military leaderships are serious in de-escalating tensions.

While confirming the first direct contact between Mr Zardari and the army chief since the sudden departure of the former to Dubai on Dec 6 for medical treatment, and that too after some leaked media reports, the government tried to play down the significance of the conversation by saying that “they talked by chance”.

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani told a select group of reporters on Saturday evening that during his meeting with the army chief on Friday night, he received a telephone call from the president by chance. He said when he informed Mr Zardari that he was having a meeting with the army chief, he asked him to convey his regards to Mr Kayani.

The prime minister said he handed over the receiver to Gen Kayani to enable the two persons to have a chat. Mr Gilani, however, did not say anything about the subject the two discussed during the conversation.

The Presidency’s spokesman, Farhatullah Khan Babar, denied that Mr Zardari had discussed the memo issue or any other political matter with the army chief. He said the army chief enquired after the health of the president and wished him an early recovery while the President thanked him for his good wishes.

Mr Babar said it was not a planned contact and “they talked by chance”.

Asked why the government did not tell the media about the telephone contact on Friday night, the spokesman said it was feared that if word got out, it would be all grist to rumour and media mills.

The prime minister and the army chief, through their two-hour meeting, had tried to dispel the impression of a confrontation between the civilian and military leaders over the memo case being heard by the Supreme Court.

President Zardari, a respondent in the petitions mainly filed by the leaders of Pakistan Muslim League-N over the memo case, did not submit his reply by the Dec 15 deadline.—Amir Wasim

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