ISLAMABAD: The face-to-face meeting between President Asif Zardari and army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani might have helped the two sides pull back from the brink, but the worst is not over yet, according to a senior member of the embattled Pakistan Peoples Party-led government.
A PPP veteran and close aide of the president has acknowledged the civilian government’s ‘limitations’ in asserting its authority over the powerful military establishment.
But what has emerged, in the wake of a widening rift between the civil and military leadership, is that all stakeholders have ‘limited options’ to exercise.
“The generals are aware of the fact that they cannot seek a direct intervention and it is also true that the government cannot sack the army chief either in the present situation,” the source said.
The PPP leader, who asked not to be named, said that tension had eased slightly after the meeting between the president and the army chief. “But the standoff still persists,” he added.
In fact, he went on to say that a lot will depend on whether Pakistani-American businessman Mansoor Ijaz appears before the three-judge commission investigating the memo controversy.
It is widely believed that the government does not want Ijaz to record his statement before the judicial panel, as it considers the memo nothing but a conspiracy to derail democracy. “If Mansoor Ijaz does arrive then you can very well find out who will ensure his security and visit,” he asked, referring to the military.
Though Ijaz, who is at the centre of the controversy after his Financial Times article in October last year, has not yet applied for a visa to visit Pakistan, there is speculation that he may spring a surprise by appearing before the commission.
Hence, the coming week is critical. A military official told The Express Tribune that the army wanted a de-escalation of the situation but said it was premature to say that ‘all is now well’ after the weekend meeting.
Meanwhile, it is learnt that the main reason behind Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani’s outburst against the military and intelligence chiefs is the army’s ‘backtracking on an understanding’ reached over the memo scandal.
A well-informed government official claimed that the army agreed not to pursue the issue after former Ambassador Husain Haqqani’s resignation on November 22. “The Director General of the ISI was in contact with Husain Haqqani before he was summoned back to the country and there was an understanding that the matter would stand closed after his resignation,” the official said.
However, he added, contrary to that ‘deal’ the army chief and DG ISI submitted their replies before the Supreme Court. To make matters worse, their submissions were totally different to that of the government stance.
“The government felt betrayed by this,” the source said, explaining the PM’s provocative words last week.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 16th, 2012.