ISLAMABAD: Amid an intensifying row with the government, army chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani met the corps commanders on Thursday at an unannounced session of the military’s top brass that studied various options for dealing with the political crisis that has ensued from the memo scandal.
The silence maintained by the military and its media wing, ISPR, over the meeting was more worrying than reassuring as it sent Islamabad’s rumour mills working overtime.
The meeting took place as President Asif Zardari flew to Dubai on a daylong visit for a follow-up medical examination and attending a wedding ceremony; and the government announced that it had convened the Defence Committee of the Cabinet for Saturday.
Officially, DCC’s agenda is to deliberate on the recommendations finalised by the Parliamentary Committee on National Security, but it would put the civilian leaders and army officers face to face for the first time during the latest phase of the civil-military impasse.
Mr Zardari’s departure a day after high octane Wednesday events was seen as an attempt by the beleaguered president to give an impression that he was still calling shots and hadn’t been subdued by the events.
In the absence of any official word on the army top brass meeting, the media was left to the mercy of unconfirmed sources, who claimed that the corps commanders had endorsed Gen Kayani’s commitment to democracy, but given no assurance about the PPP-led government completing its constitutional tenure.
“There will be no martial law and all players will continue to function within their constitutional limits,” an insider aware of the deliberations said in a brief comment.
There is no appetite among the public for another military coup nor does the country’s economic situation and international scenario allow for such adventurism. This, a defence observer said, was clear to the commanders as they met to discuss the political and legal crisis, but at the same time Gen Kayani’s men were in no mood to countenance a government becoming aggressive by the day.
Gen Kayani, according to one source, briefed his commanders about the escalation in tensions with the government and his strong worded reaction to Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani’s allegations in an interview that he and Inter Services Intelligence chief Lt Gen Shuja Pasha had acted unconstitutionally by submitting their replies in the Supreme Court on the memo case without going through the stipulated procedure.
“There can be no allegation more serious than what the honourable prime minister has levelled against COAS and DG, ISI, and has unfortunately charged the officers for violation of the Constitution. This has very serious ramifications with potentially grievous consequences for the country,” the military’s rejoinder had said a day earlier.
In addition to discussing, what a source described as “various options available to the army” for dealing with the crisis that intensified with Prime Minister Gilani’s “provocative” interview, the commanders analysed the government’s move to fire defence secretary Lt-Gen (retd) Naeem Khalid Lodhi, a former corps commander, who had got the job on military’s recommendation.
The move, it is said, was construed as an attempt by the government to assert its control over the military.
The commanders were bitter over the sacking and appointment of Nargis Sethi, one of the most senior bureaucrats, as his replacement.
Ms Sethi, considered a confidante of Prime Minister Gilani whom she has served as principal secretary, spent a busy day at the defence ministry after assuming charge of the new, more challenging assignment.
Developments in the NRO verdict implementation case and proceedings of the commission appointed by the Supreme Court on the memo scandal also came up for review at the army meeting.
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