The political crisis in Pakistan has deepened with an embattled civilian government of Yousaf Raza Gilani and the mighty Pakistan army on a collision course, raising fears of another army coup in Pakistan.
The faceoff could end with one side backing down and risking credibility. According to sources in Pakistan, the government's allies have advised caution and moderation. But some say that Gilani government appears ready to take the next step which could even be a removal of army chief Ashfaq Parvez Kayani or ISI chief Shuja Pasha.
Pak army feels memogate akin to treason
Observers say the possibility of the Pakistan government removing army chief Ashfaq Parvez Kayani or ISI chief Shuja Pasha has gone up after the sack of defence secretary who is said to be close to Kayani and the main link with the army.
At the same time hand, the army could cite serious national threat to Pakistan and remove the government, establish martial law and call for elections. Kayani, who flew in from China on Wednesday, has called a meeting of the top corps commanders on Thursday to apparently take a final decision on the issue.
Nasim Zehra, editor of Dunya TV and a senior political commentator, told TOI the "misunderstandings would be clarified on Thursday by constitutional means." The national assembly, she said, could pass a resolution on democracy and the government, which would defuse the situation while ruling out the possibility of a coup.
The genesis of this spat lies in the "memogate" scandal, involving an alleged memo sent by the civilian government to US military chief Mike Mullen after Osama bin Laden's killing, asking for help to remove Pakistan's generals. Mansoor Ijaz, the memo's self-proclaimed author, named Hussain Haqqani, Pakistan's former envoy to US as being behind it.
That memo, which Mullen said he did not take seriously, has led to a political crisis in Pakistan. The government has downplayed the memo while the army has highlighted it as almost amounting to treason.
Pakistan's activist supreme court, led by justice Iftikhar Chaudhry has mounted its own attack on the Zardari-Gilani government. Not only did it order the memogate issue to be investigated, putting pressure on the government, on Tuesday, Chaudhry also threatened Zardari and Gilani with disqualification, because they had apparently delayed the implementation of an NRO (national reconciliation ordinance) for the past two years.
The full bench is scheduled to meet on January 16, when the apex court can hand out a verdict that could be either disqualification or contempt of court - both of which would be damaging to the government.
Zardari and Gilani have apparently decided to fight the battle politically, making it a civilian versus military issue, hoping that Pakistan will continue to support the civilian government. They are also banking on growing international opinion against military rule in Pakistan.
Pak army could cite serious national threat to Pakistan and remove the government, establish martial law and call for elections.