Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari sought on Friday to ease concerns that tensions between his government and the powerful military could deepen instability in the nuclear-armed country fighting a Taliban insurgency.
An increasingly unpopular figure, Zardari faces his worst political crises since taking office in 2008, and some wonder whether he and his government can survive.
The biggest pressure comes from a scandal over an unsigned memo that accused the military of plotting a coup after it was humiliated by the unilateral U.S. special forces raid that killed Osama bin Laden on Pakistani soil in May last year.
Pakistan’s Supreme Court is investigating who could have been behind the memo which the media and Zardari’s opponents have suggested was an act of treason.
“We are not at war with the judiciary. Why would we be at war with the military? There is no war,” Zardari said in an interview with Geo News TV channel.
The “memogate” scandal broke three months ago when businessman Mansoor Ijaz, writing in a column in the Financial Times, said a senior Pakistani diplomat had asked that the memo be delivered to the Pentagon for help in reining in the army.
Ijaz later identified the diplomat as Husain Haqqani, Pakistan’s then ambassador in Washington and a close Zardari aide.
Haqqani denies any involvement, and no evidence has emerged that the military was plotting a coup. The military has ruled Pakistan for over half its 64-year history.
The judicial investigation could further threaten Pakistan’s weak government, especially if a link is established between Zardari and the memo.
Opposition parties accused Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani of unfairly criticizing the military recently by asking how bin Laden managed to escape detection in Pakistan for several years -- a question angry American officials asked too.
Zardari said Gilani was not attacking the army.
“You think it's a fight, I call it a part of evolution. It will evolve, and will simmer down in due time,” said Zardari.
Tensions between the military and the civilian government in Pakistan are a worrying sign for the region and for Pakistan’s uneasy relationship with its key ally, the United States.
Washington wants stability in Islamabad so it can concentrate on helping the U.S.-led efforts to stabilize Afghanistan and fight militancy in the region.