ISLAMABAD - Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari met the chief of the powerful Pakistani Army on Jan. 14 for rare face-to-face talks, a spokesman said, amid a civilian-military standoff that is shaking the government.
The unscheduled talks come against the background of shaky ties between Zardari's weak civilian administration and the military over a probe into a mysterious memo that sought US help in curbing the army's power.
"Chief of the army staff Gen. Ashfaq Kayani called on President Zardari in his office today," the president's spokesman Farhatullah Babar said.
Babar gave few details about the meeting beyond that, saying the "current security situation came under discussion."
Kayani, widely regarded as the most powerful figure in Pakistan, is also attended a meeting of a defense committee, which comprises senior ministers and military chiefs, later in the day.
"The committee is likely to discuss matters related to defense and national security," a government official said.
He declined to comment when asked whether the meeting, chaired by Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, would help defuse tension between the civilian and military leadership.
Pakistan has been under military dictatorships for about half its history since independence in 1947, its civilian leaders thrown out in three coups.
But despite current tensions, analysts say another coup is unlikely and they instead predict early elections, possibly in the first half of this year.
The "Memogate" scandal centers on an unsigned note allegedly sent by an aide of Zardari to the U.S. military last May, apparently to avert a possible coup after the killing of Osama bin Laden by the U.S. in Pakistan.
The memo has pitted the Pakistani Army against Zardari's government, and the Supreme Court is now tasked with deciding whether the government endorsed the note and, if so, if it can remain in power.
In an unusually bold interview with Chinese media, Gilani earlier this week accused the Army and intelligence chiefs of failing to make their submissions to the commission investigating the memo through government channels,.
The Army vociferously denied Gilani's accusation and said it had passed its response through the defense ministry to the court in accordance with the law, ratcheting up tensions between the two sides.
The Jan. 14 defense committee meeting is, among other items, expected to finalize recommendations to frame new rules of engagement with NATO following the November 26 air strikes on a border post that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.