Gilani Praises Army, Calls for Harmony at Defense Meeting

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani praised the armed forces as a pillar of the nation as government and military leaders met amid their worst tensions since the end of army rule in 2008.

“Together, in complete harmony with each other and other vital institutions, we can change this country’s destiny,” Gilani said yesterday, according to a government statement. “National unity is the need of the hour.”

Gilani hosted a meeting of the Defence Committee of the Cabinet in the capital, Islamabad, attended by army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and other military leaders and government ministers, APP said.

Tensions between Gilani and the military have risen over a Supreme Court investigation into a purported government memo seeking help to prevent a possible military coup. The prime minister has asked the National Assembly to vote tomorrow on a resolution pledging “full confidence and trust” in the political leadership and calling on all state institutions to “strictly function within the limits imposed on them by the constitution.”

Gilani and President Asif Ali Zardari dismiss claims by a Pakistani-American businessman that their ex-ambassador in Washington sought intervention against a possible power grab by an army angered at a raid deep into the country by the U.S. forces who killed Osama bin Laden in May last year.

Violating Constitution

Gilani last week accused the army of violating the constitution by sending statements on the memo to the Supreme Court directly, rather than through civilian officials. Gilani’s government opposed the investigation, saying it already had announced a parliamentary inquiry.

Kayani Jan. 11 warned of “grievous consequences” after Gilani’s comments. Shortly after, Gilani fired the defense secretary, a retired army lieutenant general.

“Democracy provides avenues to force national consensus and each organ and state institution has to play its due role, within its respective domain, to bring forth the best in promoting Pakistan’s national interest,” Gilani told the defense committee yesterday.

Kayani met with Zardari late yesterday in Islamabad. They discussed the current security situation, the president’s office said in a statement, without giving any details.

Gilani’s ruling coalition asked for the emergency sitting of parliament after the Supreme Court warned Jan. 10 that it may charge the prime minister with contempt for his failure to pursue corruption cases against Zardari.

‘Democracy or Dictatorship’

“You have to decide whether this country should have democracy or dictatorship,” Gilani said in the National Assembly during a specially convened session two days ago. “I want to warn the opposition that if there is any stage being set up, it’s not for us. We both will go.”

The challenges from both the army, which has ruled Pakistan for more than 32 years since independence in 1947, and the judiciary come amid the country’s worst-ever energy crisis. Power shortages have shut factories and sparked violent street protests in the biggest cities. The government cut its growth forecast for the economy in the fiscal year ending June to 3.6 percent from 4.2 percent.

Gilani on Dec. 22 warned against a conspiracy to oust his administration by a “state within a state,” a reference to the army, and later denied rumors that he was aiming to remove top generals. Former prime minister and now opposition leader Nawaz Sharif has said early elections are the only way to end the current impasse.

Kayani has said repeatedly there will be no coup. “The army will continue to support the democratic process in the country,” he said in a Dec. 23 speech to troops reported on the military press office’s website.