ISLAMABAD - Pakistan's army warned Jan. 11 of "grievous consequences" for the country over criticism by the prime minister that has ramped up tensions between the military and civilian leadership.
Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani immediately sacked the top bureaucrat in the defense ministry over the row, with the government saying the official had been the cause of the "misunderstanding" with the military.
The spat centers on a Supreme Court inquiry set up to investigate a controversial unsigned memo allegedly delivered to the U.S. military seeking its help in curbing Pakistan's highly powerful armed forces in May.
In an unusually bold interview with Chinese media earlier this week, Gilani accused the army and intelligence chiefs of failing to make their submissions to the commission through government channels.
The army issued a statement on Jan. 11 vociferously denying Gilani's accusation and saying it had passed its response through the defense ministry to the court in accordance with the law.
"There can be no allegation more serious than what the honorable prime minister has leveled against COAS (army chief Gen. Ashfaq Kayani) and DG ISI (spy chief Lt. Gen. Ahmad Shuja Pasha) and has unfortunately charged the officers for violation of the constitution of the country," the army's statement said. "This has very serious ramifications with potentially grievous consequences for the country."
Kayani returned on Jan. 10 from China and met on Jan. 11 with the head of Myanmar's air force in Rawalpindi.
Pakistan has seen three military coups since independence in 1947. It has spent about half of its life under military dictatorships.
The current civilian administration headed by Zardari has lurched from crisis to crisis since coming to power in 2008 following elections held a month after the assassination of his wife, former prime minister Benazir Bhutto.
Defense secretary Naeem Khalid Lodhi was fired over what the government called a "misunderstanding" between Gilani and the top brass caused by his failure to pass court submissions through the prime minister's office.
"Prime minister has terminated the contract of defense secretary Naeem Khalid Lodhi for gross misconduct," a senior government official told AFP.
The army's statement cast doubt on the government's claim and said that Gilani had issued a press release last month apparently approving the army's replies to the court as being made "through proper channel."
The statement also defended submissions made to the memo inquiry as in accordance with the military's obligation to "state the facts."
The highly controversial memo was allegedly an attempt by President Asif Ali Zardari through Husain Haqqani - a close aide and then-ambassador to the United States - to enlist help from the U.S. military to head off a feared coup in Pakistan.
American businessman Mansoor Ijaz has claimed that Zardari reportedly feared that the military might seize power in a bid to limit the hugely damaging fallout after U.S. Navy SEALs killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan in May.
Tension between the army and Zardari's weak civilian administration soared over the note, allegedly delivered to then-chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen in May and made public by Ijaz in October.
Pakistan's Supreme Court last week decided to set up a judicial commission to investigate the matter and Pasha, the head of the ISI intelligence agency, has called for a "forensic examination" of the memo.
Haqqani has already resigned over the affair and the court has stopped him from leaving Pakistan. At the second meeting of the commission held on Jan. 9, he repeated his denial of any involvement in the scandal.
The commission, being held in Islamabad, is to meet again on Jan. 16 and is expected to submit its findings within four weeks.
The probe puts fresh pressure on the president, who visited Dubai in December over health fears, with most observers expecting early elections sometime in 2012.