Pak Army chief meets core commanders amid rising tensions

The powerful military has often been at odds with civilian leaders and has ruled Pak for more than half of its 64-year history.

Islamabad: Pakistan Army chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani held a key meeting with top commanders on Thursday against the backdrop of an escalating row with the civilian government over the memo scandal.

Kayani met with top commanders at the General Headquarters in the garrison city of Rawalpindi, a military official said.

The official declined to be identified as he was not authorised to speak on the issue.

Military spokesman Major Muhammad Ali Diyal declined to say what the talks at Army headquarters were about, but the meeting is likely to fuel speculation about the Army`s next move in the country`s political and legal crisis.

The meeting was attended by both the Principal Staff Officers, or senior generals serving at the General Headquarters, and the Corps Commanders, who head formations across the country, other sources said.

The issues that figured at the meeting could not immediately be ascertained and there was no word from the military`s media wing.

The meeting was held hours before lawmakers gathered for an urgent session of the National Assembly or lower house of parliament convened by the government to discuss a warning from the Supreme Court that action could be taken against the President and Prime Minister for failing to reopen high- profile corruption case.

While most analysts say Army Chief General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani has little appetite for a coup, they say the generals may be happy to allow the Supreme Court to dismiss the government by "constitutional means."

On Wednesday, the Prime Minister fired the defence secretary and the military issued an unusual statement warning of "grievous consequences", as the fallout from a scandal centred on a memo written to Washington asking for its help in reining in the generals widened.

The Supreme Court, seen as hostile to President Asif Ali Zardari and an ally of the army, is investigating that affair and a second one linked to past corruption cases against the President. Both could potentially be used as a pretext to oust the current civilian leadership.

Pakistan`s Army has ruled the country for much of its six-decade existence, and still sees itself as the rightful custodian of the country`s interests. No civilian government has ever completed its term in office.

The Zardari government, which was democratically elected in 2008, is determined to see out its term.

General elections are scheduled for next year, but could well take place sooner.

The government has been widely criticized for ineptness, poor or ineffectual governance, and alleged corruption.

Still, domestic and international proponents of democracy say it should be able to complete its term, and elections should decide the country`s next leaders. They note successive military coups in Pakistan are a main cause of the country`s current malaise.

Bureau Report

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