Pakistan PM sacks defence secretary

2012-01-11 17:38

Islamabad - Pakistan's prime minister has sacked the defence secretary, his office said on Wednesday, in a move likely to ratchet up tension with the country's powerful military.

The decision comes during intense friction between the civilian government and the powerful military over an unsigned memo that sought US help in reining in Pakistan's generals.

Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani's office said in a statement that retired Lieutenant General Naeem Khalid Lodhi was fired for "gross misconduct and illegal action which created misunderstanding" between state institutions.

Distrust between civilian leaders and the generals has bedevilled the nuclear-armed South Asian country for almost its entire existence, with the military ruling for more than half of its 64-year history after a series of coups.

A senior military official said the latest tension was "very serious".

In December, President Asif Ali Zardari flew to Dubai for medical treatment sparking rumours that he had fled the country anticipating a coup.

Army chief General Ashfaq Kayani last month dismissed coup rumours as speculation and said the army supported democracy. Zardari returned after about two weeks.

Shortly before news that the defence secretary had been sacked, the military issued a statement objecting to allegations made by the prime minister in an interview with a Chinese news outlet that the army and intelligence chiefs had acted unconstitutionally in the "memogate" scandal.

"There can be no allegation more serious than what the honourable prime minister has levelled," said the military in a reference to Gilani's comments.

"This has very serious ramifications with potentially grievous consequences for the country."

The memo scandal broke three months ago when businessman Mansoor Ijaz, writing in a column in the Financial Times, said a senior Pakistani diplomat had earlier in the year asked that the memo be delivered to the US defence department for help in reining in the military.

Ijaz later identified the diplomat as the then Pakistani ambassador to the United States, Husain Haqqani, an ally of Zardari's who was never liked by the military for his strong advocacy of civilian supremacy.

Haqqani denied any connection with the memo but resigned as ambassador.

Pakistan's Supreme Court has set up a judicial commission to investigate the memo.

Although Pakistan is a US ally, their relations are often difficult and anti-US sentiment runs high. Many Pakistanis see a request for US intervention in Pakistan's affairs as disloyal.