ISLAMABAD: Wednesday evening saw high drama as the army warned the prime minister of “grievous consequences” for his allegations against the Chief of Army Staff and the ISI spymaster and the government struck back by sacking the defence secretary. However as night fell, sanity prevailed with the news of telephone conversation between Yousuf Raza Gilani and Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani.
Talking to reporters, the prime minister said Gen Kayani had spoken to him before ISPR, the military’s public affairs wing, issued a rejoinder to the former’s interview with China’s People’s Daily Online.
He didn’t share details of his conversation with the army chief, but it was interesting to note that both the ISPR statement and the subsequent notification about the sacking of defence secretary Lt-Gen Naeem Khalid Lodhi had one element in common — both held Gen Lodhi responsible for the snafu.
But this did not mean an end to the crisis in troubled civil-military ties that started with the ‘memogate’ and all eyes are now on the National Assembly’s Thursday session.
The ISPR statement, whose subsequent television reporting was garnished with gimmicky comments, denied that the army chief and the ISI director general acted “unconstitutionally and illegally” while filing their replies in memo issue and noted that Mr Gilani’s allegations could have “very serious ramifications with potentially grievous consequences for the country”.
Beyond that, ISPR said: “The responses by the respondents were sent to the Ministry of Defence for onward submission to the Honourable Supreme Court, through Attorney General (Law Ministry)”. And that: “Responsibility for moving summaries and obtaining approvals of competent authority thereafter lay with the relevant ministries and not with the respondents.”
This was much similar to the position taken by the government while notifying termination of Gen Lodhi’s services.
The Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement: “General Lodhi was dismissed for gross misconduct and illegal action … and for creating misunderstanding between institutions.”
The government gave additional charge of the defence ministry to Cabinet Secretary Nargis Sethi. The new defence secretary happens to be the first woman bureaucrat to lead the ministry — a position that in the past was mostly occupied by retired generals.
Mr Gilani further explained: “Under the rules of business, the defence secretary did not get the summary in writing or sought confirmation from the minister and bypassed the Ministry of Law and Justice and sent a copy of replies to the attorney general and also sent the reply directly to the Supreme Court registrar.” He said Gen Lodhi had been removed after “thoroughly investigating the matter”, adding that the former defence secretary had himself conceded that he did not get the replies approved by the defence minister or the attorney general.
“And he has written himself that neither the minister nor the attorney general was available. We have nothing against anybody.”
Gen Lodhi, who took over as the defence secretary on November 28 last year, was considered to be a close confidant of Gen Kayani.
Along came the news of appointment of a new 111 Brigade Commander, which sent adrenaline pumping through the veins of all those who had been anxiously watching the situation because this brigade had in the past remained associated with coups d’etat.
Some took it as a clear signal that the military was thinking of overthrowing the government, but ISPR once again stepped in with a clarification that the change was a routine posting matter because the former commander had been posted out as General Officer Commanding Lahore following his promotion to the rank of major general.
Moreover, it was widely rumoured that Gen Kayani, following the troubling developments, had convened a meeting of his senior aides at the GHQ known by their designation as principal staff officers.
That too, an ISPR official later said, was not happening.
All happened a day after the Supreme Court set into motion a slow coup by warning that it could act against the president and the prime minister for failing to revive high-profile corruption cases.
Even as the army insists that it is being unnecessarily dragged into the controversy between the Supreme Court and the government, there are few takers and it is believed the apex court’s activism was backed by the military, which always felt uncomfortable working with the PPP leadership.—BSS