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Pakistan President Leaves For Dubai Amid Spat With Military


Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari

Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari -- who faces an escalating dispute with the country's powerful military leaders -- traveled to Dubai today for what an aide said would be a one-day visit to attend a wedding.

Zardari's trip comes as Pakistan's embattled civilian government is embroiled in court proceedings that could threaten the tenure of top civilian leaders.

Zardari is deeply unpopular with Pakistan's military establishment, which is widely believed to be behind repeated attempts to oust him from power.

This week, tensions between Pakistan's civilian and military leaders escalated to near-open conflict in a country that has seen repeated military coups in its six-decade history.

Relations between Zardari and the generals have never been good. But they have soured dramatically in recent months over a memo sent to Washington asking for help to rein in Pakistan's generals after the U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden.

In December, as the so-called "memogate" crisis was escalating in Islamabad, Zardari traveled to Dubai for what his aides said was a routine medical checkup for a heart condition.

The timing of that trip by Zardari triggered frenzied media speculation in Pakistan that a military coup could be imminent. Zardari stayed in Dubai for two weeks, returning to Islamabad in late December.

Army chief General Ashfaq Kayani dismissed December's coup rumors as speculation and said the army supports democracy.

However, Kayani also has clashed in the past with Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani over who should appoint the director of Pakistan's ISI intelligence service. Kayani came out ahead in that power struggle in September 2008 when he appointed Lieutenant-General Ahmad Shuja Pasha to the top ISI post.

Escalating Tensions

Tensions between Pakistan's civilian and military leaders escalated further on January 11 when Gilani announced the sacking of Defense Secretary Naeem Khalid Lodhi, a retired general with close ties to Pakistan's elite military chiefs.

Gilani's office said Lodhi was fired for "gross misconduct and illegal action which created misunderstanding" between the state's military and civilian institutions.

Gilani's aides say Lodhi gave distorted information to Kayani and Pasha about the civilian government's view on the memogate scandal. Both Kayani and Pasha are said to have used that information when giving court testimony against Gilani linked to the scandal.

Gilani recently was quoted by a Chinese news outlet as saying both Kayani and Pasha had acted unconstitutionally in the "memogate" scandal.

On January 11, just before Lodhi's dismissal was announced, the military issued a statement saying: "There can be no allegation more serious than what the honorable prime minister has leveled. This has very serious ramifications with potentially grievous consequences for the country."

In a possible sign of efforts to reduce friction, officials said on January 12 that Gilani had called a meeting of the cabinet's defense committee for January 14 due to be attended by the army chief.

compiled from agency reports
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