Gilani changes tack, praises army chief
ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani continues to drop bombshells in his public pronouncements.
In an interaction with electronic media on Monday, he denied reports that the government had even considered sacking the army chief and Inter-Services Intelligence’s (ISI) director general in the aftermath of the ‘memogate’ episode.
Holding out the proverbial olive branch to the military leadership, he said the army chief was a supporter of democracy, adding that relationship between the civilian and military leadership was normal.
“Generals cannot be changed in the middle of wars and only fools are spreading such rumours for their vested interests,” the prime minister said in reply to a question.
Mr Gilani said he was fully satisfied with Gen Ashfaq Pervez Kayani’s performance as the Chief of Army Staff.
The statement appeared significant coming as it did only a few days after public speeches made by the prime minister in which he was critical of the military and went to the extent of asking people to choose between elected representatives and dictatorship.
The speeches were seen by some analysts as throwing down the gauntlet to the military.
Since then reports have appeared, though mostly unsubstantiated, that the government is considering replacing the army chief and the head of ISI, both of whom are on extension.
With his Monday’s statement, the prime minister tried to scotch the reports.
He said, “I am the one who requested both Chief of Army Staff (COAS) and ISI DG to continue after their superannuation and it is a wrong impression that the military and civilian government are not on talking terms any more.”
Significantly, the prime minister met the president before he met media personnel. And it was not a scheduled media interaction.
According to a two-liner official statement, during the meeting the president and the prime minister discussed political situation in the country.
Later, President Zardari hosted a lunch for the prime minister.
When asked to explain his comment about “state within state” which he had made on Thursday first at the National Art Gallery and then in the National Assembly, Mr Gilani said his remarks were aimed at secretary of defence who, in a written response to the Supreme Court, had said: “The ministry of defence has no operational control over the army and ISI and only looks after their administrative affairs.”
The prime minister said changing a federal secretary was not a big deal, but he didn’t want to do it in a hurry. Therefore, he said: “I have asked the federal minister of defence to inquire about circumstances under which the secretary of defence submitted this statement in the Supreme Court.”
In reply to another question, Mr Gilani again rejected a perception about tensions between the government and the military and said: “How can we run a government if there is any tension. Even today, I talked to the Chairman Joint Chiefs of the Staff Committee and discussed certain issues,” the prime minister said.
When a reporter asked about the government’s opinion on the US investigation report on Nato attacks, Mr Gilani said if the report was provided to Pakistan, the government would respond to it.
He said the Parliamentary Committee on National Security was working on terms for future engagement with Nato in Afghanistan. Once prepared, the government would comply with the terms in letter and spirit.
About a sudden surge in political activities in the country and talks of early elections, Mr Gilani said neither the new ‘revolutionaries’ (read PTI) nor other political parties wanted early elections.
The government, he said, faced no threat of whatsoever from the opposition and was sure of completing its constitutional term of five years.
It didn’t matter whether he remained the prime minister, what mattered was that parliament should complete its tenure, he added.
When asked to comment on PTI leader Shah Mehmood Qureshi’s criticism of the government’s foreign policy, the prime minister said three former foreign ministers had joined the PTI, why they did not address these concerns while they were in power.
In reply to a question about the rising popularity of Mr Imran Khan and if he was being supported by some hidden hands in the establishment, Mr Gilani said media should be better informed than politicians.
“I can only say that such ‘king’s parties’ remain in the news only till the king is there”.