Pakistan’s powerful army is fed up with unpopular President Asif Ali Zardari and wants him out of office, but through legal means and without a repeat of the coups that are a hallmark of the country’s 64 years of independence, military sources said.
Tensions are rising between Pakistan’s civilian leaders and its generals over a memo that accused the army of plotting a coup after the U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden in May.
“Who isn’t fed up with Zardari? It’s not just the opposition and the man on the street but people within the government too,” said one military source who asked not to be named.
“But there has to be a proper way. No action is being planned by the army. Even if we tried, it would be very unpopular and not just with the government and the opposition but most Pakistanis, too.”
The Pakistani military spokesman declined comment.
General Ashfaq Kayani has pledged to keep the military out of Pakistani politics since taking over as army chief in 2007.
Any coup – Pakistan has had three since independence in 1947 – could further tarnish the military’s public image, which has already taken a battering after the bin Laden operation, widely seen in Pakistan as a violation of sovereignty.
But the army remains the arbiter of power and analysts say it has plenty of ways to pressure Zardari to step down, especially if a link is established between him and the memo, which sought the Pentagon’s help in averting a feared coup.
Businessman Mansoor Ijaz, writing in a column in the Financial Times on October 10, said a senior Pakistani diplomat had asked that a memo be delivered to the Pentagon with a plea for U.S. help to stave off a military coup in the days after the raid that killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in May.
Ijaz later identified the diplomat as Pakistan’s ambassador to Washington, Husain Haqqani, who denied involvement but resigned over the controversy.
No evidence has emerged that the military was plotting a coup and the Pentagon at the time dismissed the memo as not credible.
Friction between Pakistan’s civilian government and military have bedeviled the nuclear-armed South Asian country for almost its entire existence, with the military ruling for more than half its 64-year history after a series of coups.
In the past the army has asked Pakistani civilian leaders to resign and influenced judicial proceedings against them.
Haqqani’s resignation was seen by many analysts as further weakening the civilian government, which is already beset by allegations of corruption and incompetence in the face of many challenges, including a weak economy and a Taliban insurgency.