As President Asif Zardari arrived in Islamabad from Dubai early Friday after a one day visit, a resolution was moved in Pakistan’s parliament reposing confidence in the government and in democracy. But the army is still not playing ball, as army commanders indicated that they would not cooperate with the newly appointed defence secretary and that they would back the judiciary if the crisis came to a head.
The ruling party changed its earlier intention of seeking a vote of confidence from the parliament and instead agreed to one of its coalition partners tabling a resolution that reposed confidence in the government. Prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani told parliament on Friday that he did not need a vote of confidence as "the government has been elected unanimously."
Till Thursday night, the government was planning to seek a vote of confidence from parliament but insiders say that this idea was discontinued after many felt that such a move would only raise the political temperature in the country.
On Friday, prime minister Gilani conceded that the vote of confidence was an option but then the idea of a coalition partner tabling a motion in support of democracy was considered a more sane approach.
Addressing the National Assembly session on Friday, Gilani said that he wanted to tell the Leader of the Opposition, Chaudhry Nisar, that they were not there because of the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) and they had not come to seek support against the military either.
The prime minister said that there was also a misunderstanding that they were there to be martyrs and added that this was not the case. Gilani said the parliament has to decide if it wants democracy or dictatorship. “Politicians and political workers make mistakes but democracy should not suffer because of this,” he added.
In response, opposition leader in parliament Chaudhry Nisar Ali said that all opposition parties in the lower and upper house had unanimously decided to avoid confrontation among institutions and oppose any unconstitutional steps.
He added, however, that the opposition would not allow anyone to use the parliament for personal and political agendas and will “use certain available options in such a case.”
There was also news that heads of major opposition parties met in Islamabad and demanded early elections. Party insiders also say that the parties in the opposition and the government coalition are now working towards an understanding for early elections. Under this proposal, the opposition PML-N party would support the government through its present crisis in exchange for a call for early elections. Analysts said that they expected elections to be held as early as August this year, however no party confirmed this understanding.
But the army continues to confront the government. Top commanders who met with army chief General Kayani on Thursday agreed that they would not cooperate with the newly appointed secretary of defence, Nargis Sethi. The defence secretary was appointed by Prime Minister Gilani who sacked a retired general on charges of misrepresenting the government. The move has been challenged in the Lahore high court.
Local media reported that the army chief held consultations with select corps commanders and principal staff officers to discuss the evolving situation. The meeting was held all day on Thursday at the General Headquarters (GHQ) in Rawalpindi – meetings for which there was no official statement from the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), the public relations arm of the military high command.
However, military officials confirmed the long consultation sessions with top commanders over the army’s deepening rift with the government.
Local media reported that the military had decided that it will stand behind the Supreme Court, which has already warned the government that it could disqualify the prime minister if the government failed to take action on its verdict in the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) cases by January 16.
The army will certainly consider assisting the judiciary if help was sought to implement the court’s decision, an official added requesting anonymity.
Amidst this growing confrontation, there was news that the prime minister had told the British High Commissioner of a possible mutiny in the armed forces on the Memogate issue. Soon after the Prime Minister House denied this and said that the PM had not said any such thing to the British envoy.