By RFE RL
(RFE/RL) — Pakistan’s prime minister has dismissed the country’s defense secretary, retired Lieutenant General Naeem Khalid Lodhi, in a move expected to increase tensions between Pakistan’s powerful military and its civilian leadership.
Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani’s office said in a statement that Lodhi was fired for “gross misconduct and illegal action which created misunderstanding” between state institutions.
Lodhi’s dismissal comes amid an ongoing dispute between the civilian government and Pakistan’s military over an unsigned memo asking for U.S. help to rein in Pakistan’s generals after the U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden in northern Pakistan in May.
The scandal broke out three months ago when an American-Pakistani businessman, Mansoor Ijaz, alleged in a “Financial Times” newspaper column that a senior Pakistani diplomat had asked that the memo be delivered to the U.S. Defense Department.
Ijaz later claimed the diplomat was Pakistan’s then-ambassador to the United States, Husain Haqqani, an ally of President Asif Ali Zardari who is disliked by Pakistani military officials because of his strong advocacy of civilian supremacy.
Haqqani denied any connection with the memoir but resigned as ambassador. Pakistan’s Supreme Court has set up a judicial commission to investigate the memo.
Zardari in December flew to Dubai for medical treatment, sparking rumors that he fled Pakistan in anticipation of a coup. He returned to Islamabad two weeks later.
Army chief General Ashfaq Kayani dismissed the coup rumors as speculation and said the army supports democracy.
Meanwhile, Gilani told reporters on December 26 that there was no truth to rumors that he wanted to dismiss Kayani along with the director-general of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency as a result of the alleged coup plot.
“You can’t change a general in the middle of war. We were in the middle of war,” Gilani said. “We are not America. We are in the middle of a war, and our General Kayani is pro-democracy.”
But relations between Gilani and Pakistan’s military leadership have been damaged by allegations the prime minister reportedly made in an interview with China’s “People’s Daily” news outlet. Gilani was quoted as saying the army and intelligence chiefs had acted unconstitutionally in the “memogate” scandal.
Shortly before the January 11 announcement that Lodhi has been dismissed, the military issued a statement objecting to the allegations quoted by the Chinese news service.
“There can be no allegation more serious than what the honorable prime minister has leveled,” that military statement said. “This has very serious ramifications with potentially grievous consequences for the country.”
Although Pakistan is an ally of the United States, their relations often have been difficult and anti-U.S. sentiments run high. Many Pakistanis see a request for U.S. intervention in Pakistan’s affairs as disloyal.