ISLAMABAD: It appears the turn of the year will not witness a coup d’état, though there has been much coup de théâtre.
On Friday, army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani categorically denied rampant speculation that the military is planning to oust the civilian government, calling the rumours ‘misleading’ and an attempt to divert focus from the ‘real issues’ at hand.
His unprecedented remarks came just a day after Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani launched a rare public attack on the army, accusing ‘conspirators’ of plotting to bring down his government. Kayani made the statements during a visit to forward posts in Mohmand and Kurram agencies on Thursday – but his comments were released by the military 24 hours later.
The army chief unambiguously silenced talk of a coup. He said that the Pakistan Army had and will continue to support the democratic process in the country. “The army is fully cognisant of its constitutional obligations and responsibilities,” he insisted.
Despite his dismissal of the rumours, Gen Kayani stressed that issues of national security need to be considered on merit alone. In remarks interpreted by some as an indication the army is still keeping its options open, Kayani also emphasised that national security should never be compromised.
In fact, sources hint at further distrust between the army and the government. A military official told The Express Tribune that the Pakistan Peoples Party-led government wanted to become a ‘political martyr’ by spreading talk of a possible coup.
According to the official, who asked not to be named, the real cause of the government’s ‘frustration’ is the army’s tough stance on the secret memo sent in May seeking Washington’s help to rein in the country’s security establishment.
“The government wants the army to brush the issue under the carpet,” the source claimed. “The army will not backtrack on it and will want to see the memo issue investigated thoroughly.” The official confirmed that a coup was not on the cards, disclosing that the army top brass have decided to resist any direct intervention, despite their annoyance with the prime minister’s tirade.
However, the army will back the Supreme Court as it continues investigations into the Memogate, even if it ultimately leads to the ouster of President Asif Zardari and the government.
Kayani himself seemed displeased with some of the prime minister’s comments. In a clear reference to Gilani’s remarks that his government had raised salaries in the army despite tough economic conditions, the army chief said that no one can put a “price tag on the sacred blood” of those who fight for the nation.
“The men and women of the Pakistan Army are performing their duty of defending Pakistan in accordance with the oath they took. They will continue to do so with the support and prayers of their countrymen, regardless of the cost,” he said.
Although few believe the military has the appetite for a coup, speculation has refused to die out that Zardari could be pushed from the presidency.
Military sources told Reuters on Friday that the army is fed up with Zardari and wants him out of office.
(Read: The army chief’s statement)
(With additional input from wires)
Published in The Express Tribune, December 24th, 2011.