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Central & South Asia
Pakistan president returns home
Zardari back in Islamabad with spokesman playing down tensions between army and civilian leaders over "memo-gate" saga.
Last Modified: 14 Jan 2012 04:08

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari has returned home after a one-day private visit to Dubai, with a spokesman playing down concerns over an increasingly tense standoff between the country's civilian government and the army.

The spokesman said Zardari had returned to Islamabad in the early hours on Friday.

Asked whether the president was concerned about his political future, he said:  "Absolutely not. Why should he be? He is comfortable and perfectly all right."

Pakistani officials said the president's trip was unconnected to the prime minister's dismissal of the country's defence secretary on Wednesday, as the fallout from a scandal over a memo allegedly written to Washington asking for its help in reining in the military widened.

Early last month, Zardari travelled to Dubai for medical treatment, triggering rumours that he was either being pushed out by the army or was fleeing a potential coup.

He returned after a few weeks, but tensions have continued to rise in the country, with critics predicting the government's imminent downfall.

The sacking of retired Lieutenant-General Naeem Khalid earlier this week was seen as a rare public display of assertiveness by Yousuf Raza Gilani, the prime minister, against the army, which has dominated Pakistani politics since independence, periodically toppling civilian government and ruling directly.

Zardari's ruling Pakistan People's Party (PPP) lobbied its coalition partners on Friday for support with political sources suggesting the government was planning to table a confidence motion in parliament in support of the civilian leaders.

But some coalition partners of the PPP said that Zardari and his allies should not push the military too hard, fearful of another crisis in the nuclear-armed country already gripped by instability and violence along its frontier with Afghanistan.

"The government has told us about its plans to table a resolution," said a member of parliament from a major coalition ally of the PPP.
 
"We will support any such resolution as it will be a move to strengthen democracy in the country, but it will be difficult for us to support any resolution which targets any state institution," the politician said, referring to the army.

'Memo-gate'

The so-called memo-gate scandal broke three months ago when Mansoor Ijaz, a US businessman of Pakistani origin, writing in a column in the UK's Financial Times, said a memo had allegedly been sent in May, on behalf of Zardari, to Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff at the time.

Military chief General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani held talks with top commanders on Thursday, fuelling speculation about the army's next move in the political crisis.

Military sources say that while they would like Zardari to go, it should be through constitutional means, not another of the coups that have marked half of Pakistan's almost 65 years of independence.

Most analysts say General Kayani does not want a coup because the army is currenty engaged in taking on fighters in tribal areas, while the country's economic situation is perilous.

But they say the generals may be happy to allow the supreme court, widely seen as hostile to the government, to dismiss Zardari if it can find a "constitutional" way to do so.

The court, regarded as an ally of the army, is investigating the "memo-gate" affair and a second one linked to past corruption cases against the president.

Both could potentially be used as a pretext to remove the current civilian leadership, which is showing no signs of bending.

Speaking to Al Jazeera on Thursday, Tariq Pirzada, a Pakistani political columnist, said: "The political government in Islamabad, led by President Zardari, has become totally destabilised and they have lost all the credibility in the country".

He said the president's conflict with the judiciary, as well as current tensions between the civil and military leadership, could send a negative message to the outside world.

"It is very damaging in the sense that the outside world is getting the message that the country is totally polarised from within, that there's a threat - the perception - that the army may take over," Pirzada said. "It may not be the right perception, but that is the perception going out."

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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