Pakistan's top four military officials, including powerful army chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, were absent from a state banquet hosted by President Asif Ali Zardari, triggering speculation about unease in ties between the government and the military.
The three service chiefs and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee were not among the guests at the reception and banquet hosted by Zardari for his Turkmen counterpart Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov at the presidency yesterday.
The presence or absence of the top military leadership at events organised by the civilian government is closely tracked by the media and political circles, as it is considered a reflection of the state of relations between the military and the government.
The absence of the military leaders at the banquet was reported by several TV news channels on Tuesday.
One channel quoted its sources as saying that an inquiry had been ordered to ascertain why the service chiefs did not attend the reception hosted by the President.
In a brief statement, the Inter-Services Public Relations said: "They did not attend because they were not invited to attend." The statement did not give details.
However, officials pointed out that Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee chairman Gen Khalid Shameem Wynne and the air force chief, Air Chief Marshal Rao Qamar Suleman, were currently in the United Arab Emirates to attend the Dubai Air Show.
Army chief Gen Kayani, who was in Rawalpindi, did not attend the banquet as he was not in the country at the time when invitations were sent out for the banquet, the officials told the media.
The News daily too quoted its sources in the presidency as saying that Kayani was not invited because he was out of the country when the invitations were extended.
Navy chief Admiral Asif Sandila did not attend the banquet though he was in Lahore yesterday.
A source told The News that protocol officials of the presidency informed Sandila that "in the absence of the other chiefs, he should not turn up at the banquet".
Defence minister Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar too did not attend the banquet for unknown reasons.
In its report, The News said: "Cynics draw their own conclusions with a 'doomsday scenario' for the present rulers because of their unconfirmed tiff with powerful institutions, while saner elements say that some people are trying to 'make an issue out of nothing'."
A similar situation occurred in early 1999 during the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's visit to Pakistan, when no service chief was present to welcome him despite his counterpart Nawaz Sharif's directives that they make an appearance.