VEHARI: As a military man, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani will know the phrase “to pull rank”. As army chief, he will be unaccustomed to being on the receiving end.
This happened on Sunday, when Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani claimed that, as “the representative of 180 million people”, he only had to answer to parliament – and not, therefore, to the army chief. Gilani also asserted his authority with a robust constitutional defence of his dismissal of Naeem Khalid Lodhi, the former defence secretary.
In what some have interpreted as a clear rejection of reported demands by Gen Kayani that the prime minister clarify or retract his criticism of the military’s Memogate replies, Gilani said: “I will not answer to a person. I am answerable to parliament.”
Gilani cited Article 91 of the Constitution to argue that ministers need only justify their words and deeds to parliament. He insisted that the house “can ask me anything at anytime”; thus, if asked to explain in parliament his comments about the army chief, the premier will comply.
Speaking to the media in the Punjab city of Vehari, where he went to condole with the family of Azeem Daultana, the Pakistan Peoples Party MNA who died last week, Gilani also discussed Saturday’s meeting between President Asif Zardari and Gen Kayani.
He denied knowledge of the details, but again attempted to dismiss the resulting media speculation as a storm in a teacup. After speaking to Zardari, Gilani said the “president denied that Kayani asked for any explanation on my comment, or that Kayani asked for any other statement from me.”
Gilani’s tone was that of arch-democrat, the honest politician acting within his limits – and merely asking that others do the same.
Responding to a journalist’s claim that Kayani was displeased, to put it mildly, with Gilani’s criticisms, the prime minister said: “I have never put any charges on Kayani and simply asked to observe the supremacy of the constitution and respect of law. All institutions are working in their constitutional limits and there is no confrontation.”
He used a similar approach when speaking about the recent sacking of the defence secretary. “I said just one thing, that rules and procedures were not followed … he was constitutionally wrong as he had violated the law, so I dismissed him.”
The prime minister last week said that the filing of replies in the Memogate case by Gen Kayani and ISI chief Lt-Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha was ‘unconstitutional’. The army was furious and issued a stern press release, warning of “potentially grievous consequences for the country”.
Gilani ticked off the military even more on Wednesday when he dismissed the defence secretary, Lt Gen Naeem Khalid Lodhi – who was hand-picked by the army – for overseeing the military’s response to the Memogate scandal with ‘gross misconduct’.
In a confident mood, the premier also spoke about the upcoming Senate elections, the length of his term in office and the prospects for a Seraiki province.
Regarding the Senate, he was adamant that ‘enemies of democracy’ could not derail the electoral process. When asked about his premiership, Gilani said the main issue was that parliament completes a five-year-term; in contrast, his own time in office was relatively unimportant.
“I never said that I will remain prime minister for five years because my designation is not important … parliament should complete its tenure,” the PM said.
Meanwhile, Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif responded to the prime minister’s remarks with indignation.
Shahbaz demanded that the prime minister immediately disown his anti-army statement and seek a pardon from the nation. He termed Gilani’s words irresponsible and alleged that they were delivered at the behest of President Zardari.
(With additional input from Abdul Manan in Lahore and Reuters)
Published in The Express Tribune, January 16th, 2012.
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