Pakistan’s army chief, General Ashfaq Kayani, cancelled an official visit to the UK on Monday as the country's military high command moved to express displeasure with its western allies over allegations that the ISI was involved in recent attacks in Afghanistan. At the same time, a Chinese and Saudi delegation arrived in Pakistan to shore up support for the country, officials said.
Britain's ministry of defence said General Kayani, who was expected to meet privately with UK defence Minister Liam Fox had cancelled the trip. However, it declined to speculate on why the visit was scrapped.
With the US accusing the Pakistan military of involvement in the attack on its embassy in Kabul and on a NATO base in Afghanistan, Pakistan's military commanders on Sunday held a six hour emergency meeting in which they not only rubbished the American claims but also rejected any military operation in North Waziristan.
The military commanders also put pressure on the Zardari government to pull back in its talks with the US, which were being conducted at the foreign minister level.
Initially, President Zardari reacted by asking foreign minister Khar to cut short her America visit and return home immediately but then better sense prevailed following behind the scenes diplomatic activity and Ms Khar was asked to attend the UN General Assembly session where she “would forcefully put forward the case for Pakistan,” according to presidential spokesman Farhatullah Babar.
In another development, Chinese Vice-Prime Minister Meng Jianzhou arrived in Islamabad on a two day visit.
The Chinese leader arrived at a time when a trilateral meeting between intelligence officials from Saudi Arabia, China and Pakistan was held.
An official said that the trilateral meeting between officials “will focus on US allegations against Pakistan and the future course of action in this regard.”
At a news conference on Monday, interior minister Rehman Malik said the visiting Chinese leader, who is his counterpart as well, is coming to Pakistan on an invitation extended by him and that the two will be meeting.
At the same time, the deterioration in relations between the US government and the Pakistan military may have unforseen consequences warn Pakistani leaders. Earlier this week, Ms Khar told her American counterparts that the US "should not cross the red line."
At home, politicians have been demanding that Pakistan call off talks with the US.
In response to the public outcry, President Zardari has called for an all parties conference where he promises that the American allegations and Pakistan's response to them will be discussed. But tensions between the Zardari government and the military are also rising, say analysts.
“Things are moving very fast. We are not sure in which direction,” commented analyst Saleem Bokhari. Bokhari criticised the civilian leadership for not taking any inititiative in the matter "leaving it to the military to take key decisions and move ahead."
But others argue that the government is only trying to find a way forward. Former ISI chief Javed Ashraf Qazi commented that the issue was not one of military-civilian relations. "It is an issue of standing as a nation. We have to present a united front which I am seeing finally taking shape." Qazi said that there was no challenge to the civilian government.
For its part, in the first official reaction to the American allegations, General Kayani had said earlier that he had held a constructive meeting with the Americans last week. He termed the statements following that meeting as "very disturbing."
Second term for Asif Ali Zardari?
Asif Ali Zardari appears set to secure another term as Pakistan's President even if his ruling PPP fails to win a majority in Parliament in the next general election in 2013, a media report said .
However, Zardari has to ensure that elections for half the seats in the 100-member Senate, or upper house of parliament, take place according to schedule in March next year, a close aide of the President told The Express Tribune paper.
“He believes if the Senate elections are held under the current set-up, nobody can stop him from winning another term," said a PPP official.
(with inputs from PTI)