Saturday, January 14, 2012

Hague urges 'panicky' Pakistan to remain calm amid fears over military coup as Prime Minister pleas for British support

Foreign Secretary William Hague appealed for calm in Pakistan yesterday amid growing fears the army is preparing to seize control in a military coup.

Hours after beleaguered prime minister Yousuf Reza Gilani was reported to have made a ‘panicky’ telephone call to the British High Commissioner in Islamabad appealing for UK help, Mr Hague said: ‘While clearly there is tension, a lot of risks, we must not talk up those risks.’

He refused to comment on reports that Mr Gilani, who is facing a parliamentary vote of no confidence, had made the call.

The decision comes at a time of intense friction over an unsigned memo that sought U.S. help in reining in Pakistan’s generals.

The fact that Mr Gilani is said to have again gone behind their backs asking the British for help will further damage relations.

The army has also warned of ‘serious ramifications with potentially grievous consequences’ after its defence chief was fired.

Mr Hague played down coup fears, saying: ‘I don’t see at the moment signs of such panic. Certainly there has been a very tense situation this week.’ However Britain would not interfere in Pakistan’s internal affairs, he said.

Tension was ‘very serious’, said a top military official in Pakistan.

The Pakistan leader's fears are not, however, unfounded. The Army has staged four coups in Pakistan's history and is believed to consider itself the only true guardian of the country's national interests.

It is widely known that the civilian government, headed by Gilani and President Asif Ali Zardari, is not liked by the military.

News of the plea for help came after the government fired its defence secretary.

Retired Lt. Gen. Naeem Khalid Lodhi, an army loyalist seen as a bridge between the generals and the civilian government, was dismissed for 'gross misconduct and illegal action' and replaced with a bureaucrat close to Prime Minister Yousuf Reza Gilani, the government said in a statement.

The developments are a sign of near-open conflict between the army and the government.

Such is the weakness of Pakistan's state institutions that leaders have often looked to foreign powers to intervene in domestic affairs.

The United States and Gulf nations have in the past been invited to mediate in disputes between the country's competing centres of power.

They have even been asked to guarantee arrangements struck between these internal figures.

The latest flare-up centres on an unsigned memo sent to Washington asking for help to head off a supposed coup following the U.S. raid that led to the death of Osama bin Laden and which is being investigated by a Supreme Court Commission.

As part of the probe the Supreme court has also ordered the government to open corruption investigations into Zardari dating back many years. The government has so far refused.

Earlier this week, the court said it could dismiss Zardari and Gilani over the case.

Judges are convening Monday for what could be a decisive session plunging the country into a constitutional crisis. The row is threatening the stability of the country.

While Pakistan's judiciary are widely seen as both corrupt and ineffectual, they - unlike the army and the judges - have some legitimacy because they were elected to office.

Most analysts agree that army chief General Kayani has little appetite for a coup, they say the general may be happy to allow the Supreme Court to dismiss the government by 'constitutional means.'

Pro-democracy campaigners say Pakistan's history of successive military coups and interference in the democratic process by the courts and the army are main cause of the country's current malaise.

The nuclear-armed country is facing a host of problems, among them near economic collapse and a virulent al-Qaida and Taliban-led insurgency.

The fight against the militants has been complicated by allegations that the country's main Inter-Services Intelligence is supporting some of the insurgents.

On Friday, a government-appointed commission investigating the unsolved murder of a journalist last year said that the ISI needed to be more 'law-abiding.'

The report did not find enough evidence to name any perpetrators in the death of Saleem Shahzad,
who was killed after he told friends he had been threatened by the ISI.

The commission called on the ISI to be made more accountable to the government through internal reviews and oversight by parliament. It said its interactions with reporters should be closely monitored.

Also Friday, militants assaulted a police station in the northwestern city of Peshawar, shooting dead three officers and wounding nine others, said police officer Saeed Khan.

The Pakistani Taliban have carried out hundreds of attacks on the country's army and other security forces since 2007. The attack came a day after militants armed with guns and grenades killed four Pakistani soldiers in an ambush in the South Waziristan tribal area.

Daily Mail


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