Pakistan's prime minister telephoned the top British diplomat in the country this week expressing fears that the Pakistani army might be about to stage a coup, a British official and an official in Islamabad said on Friday.
The call, which one official said was "panicky", suggests there was or perhaps still is a genuine fear at the highest level of the Pakistani government that army might carry out a coup or support possible moves by the Supreme Court to topple the civilian leadership.
Prime Minister Yousuf Reza Gilani asked High Commissioner Adam Thomson for Britain to support his embattled government, according to the officials, who didn't give their names because of the sensitivity of the issue. It's unclear if the British government took any action.
Such is the weakness of state institutions, Pakistani leaders have often looked to foreign powers, especially the United States and Gulf countries, to intervene in domestic affairs, mediate disputes between feuding power centers or "guarantee" agreements between them.
The army, which has staged four coups in Pakistan's history and is believed to consider itself the only true custodian of the country's interests, has never liked the civilian government headed by Gilani and President Asif Ali Zardari.
But a scandal that erupted late last year, which centered on an unsigned memo sent to Washington asking for its help in heading off a supposed coup following the US raid that killed Osama bin Laden, has brought the army and civilian government into near-open confrontation.
While most analysts say army chief Gen 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."