Sun, Dec 25, 2011 - Page 4 News List

Pakistan army dismisses coup fears

‘SPECULATION’:The government of Asif Ali Zardari has become increasingly unpopular since 2008, failing to tackle power cuts, suicide bombings and the struggling economy

Reuters, ISLAMABAD

Pakistan’s powerful military pledged on Friday to continue supporting democracy, reiterating it was not planning a takeover as tensions grow over a controversial memo alleging an army plot to seize power.

At the same time, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari’s spokesman Farhatullah Babar said the president had resumed his duties after returning from medical treatment in Dubai and had no intention of leaving over the scandal, which has undermined the already deeply unpopular president.

An army statement quoted Pakistani Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Kayani as telling troops the military would continue to support democracy in Pakistan and that any talk the army was planning to take over was “speculation.”

Many Pakistanis wonder whether Zardari can survive the crisis and speculation has been growing that the powerful generals will try to oust him somehow. The tension is a worrying sign for the region and for Pakistan’s uneasy relationship with its key ally, the US.

There are several scenarios under which Zardari could be forced out. The military does not want to be seen interfering in politics, but it could use its vast influence to isolate Zardari, or offer him an honorable exit by guaranteeing he will not face prosecution on long-standing corruption charges.

Alternatively, the Pakistani Supreme Court justices, seen by some as anti-Zardari, could move against him over the memo case.

The US wants political -stability in Pakistan so that Islamabad can help fight militancy and aid Western efforts to stabilize Afghanistan.

In Washington, US Department of State spokesman Mark Toner told reporters the US supported the democratic process and the rule of law in Pakistan and that such issues were “for the Pakistani people to resolve within their own political process.”

Zardari, known for his resilience in the face of pressure, plans to stay in Pakistan, his spokesman Babar said.

“He is performing his usual work. There is no truth in the reports that the president will leave the country after Dec. 27. He is here in Pakistan and he has come to stay,” Babar added.

Zardari is expected to address a rally tomorrow, on the fourth anniversary of the assassination of his wife, former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto.

On Friday, Zardari chaired a meeting with senior leaders of his Pakistan People’s Party, and also met coalition partners.

Pakistani Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry earlier moved to allay fears of a possible military coup as tensions rose.

“There is no question of a takeover. Gone are the days when people used to get validation for unconstitutional steps from the courts,” Chaudhry said.

The Supreme Court is looking into a petition demanding an inquiry into what has become known as “memogate.” Kayani, arguably the most powerful man in the country, has called for an investigation into who may have been behind the memo.

Newspaper editorials on Friday highlighted unease in the nuclear-armed nation, predicting a showdown between Zardari and his allies and the military, which is so influential it has been described as a state within a state.

“A specter is haunting Pakistan — the specter of a clash between the army and the government that threatens to turn fatal,” said an editorial in The News

Businessman Mansoor Ijaz, writing in a column in the Financial Times on Oct. 10, said a senior Pakistani diplomat had asked that a memo be delivered to the US Pentagon with a plea for US help to stave off a military coup in the days after the raid that killed al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in May.

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