By Alex Rodriguez, Los Angeles Times –
ISLAMABAD — Pakistan’s prime minister fired the country’s defense secretary Wednesday for “gross misconduct and illegal action,” the latest salvo in a growing conflict between the civilian government and the military.
Retired Lt. Gen. Naeem Khalid Lodhi’s dismissal also stemmed from his “creating a misunderstanding between state institutions,” Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani’s office said without elaborating.
Pakistani commentators said they believed Lodhi’s firing was related to his role in an ongoing scandal over a memo asking Washington to help thwart a military takeover of President Asif Ali Zardari’s government in the aftermath of the U.S. raid that killed al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden in Pakistan last May. A Pakistani American businessman says he conveyed the memo to U.S. officials at the direction of then-ambassador to the U.S. Husain Haqqani. Haqqani and Zardari’s government deny any connection to the memo.
The Pakistani Supreme Court has appointed a commission to investigate the origin of the memo. During recent Supreme Court hearings on the case, Lodhi stated that the government did not have any “operational control” over the Pakistani army and its primary intelligence agency, Inter-Services Intelligence. Those remarks angered top leaders in the country’s ruling Pakistan People’s Party.
Legally, the military and intelligence community fall under the purview of the civilian government. Historically, however, the military has operated as the dominant power in Pakistani society, and has carried out several coups in the country’s 64-year history. The current military leadership, led by army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, has had a difficult and acrimonious relationship with Zardari since his ascent to power in 2008.
Military officials on Wednesday criticized Gilani for an interview with a Chinese newspaper this week in which he said Kayani and ISI chief Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha acted illegally when they submitted affidavits to the Supreme Court without government approval. In those affidavits, Kayani and Pasha called for a thorough investigation into the scandal and said they saw validity in the account given by the Pakistani American businessman, Mansoor Ijaz.
“There can be no allegation more serious than what (Prime Minister Gilani) has leveled against” Kayani and Pasha, military officials said in a statement. “This has very serious ramifications with potentially grievous consequences for the country.”
In recent weeks, the military has tried to dispel rumors about a potential military coup.
The government, meanwhile, faces a threat from the country’s Supreme Court, which this week said it would remove Gilani from office if he did not pursue longstanding corruption cases against Zardari. Gilani has refused to take up those cases. The court has ordered government leaders to explain why they have ignored the court’s orders.