ISLAMABAD — Fears that Pakistan's military might orchestrate a collapse of the civilian government abated Wednesday after the prime minister and army chief publicly signaled that they'd reconciled their political differences.
The apparent easing of tensions followed the refusal Monday of the American businessman who's at the center of the so-called Memogate affair — which threatened to link the president to a plot against the military — to come to Pakistan to testify to a judicial commission.
A wave of relief swept over Pakistan when state media outfits broadcast footage Wednesday of a cordial conference on national security policy between Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and the heads of the army and the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, the powerful military spy agency.
The conference was the first close contact between the prime minister and the army chief since they fell out over Memogate in December. Officials said the two discussed Pakistan's relationship with the United States, which has been deadlocked since NATO forces inadvertently killed some two dozen Pakistani soldiers in a friendly fire incident on the Afghan border in November.
A Pentagon investigation found that Pakistani forces had opened fire on NATO troops as a result of poor coordination between military commanders on both sides. The Pakistani military, which boycotted the U.S. investigation, disputes the Pentagon's conclusions, saying its troops were attacked while they slept.
Political analysts said that the conference Wednesday — which the foreign minister also attended — clearly was intended to signal that Pakistan's civilian and military leadership were united on issues of national interest.
They said that Gen. Khalid Shamim Wyne, the chairman of Pakistan's Joint Chiefs of Staff, mediated the reconciliation. His office had seen a steady stream of diplomatic visitors over the last two weeks, notably including the ambassador of China, Pakistan's closest strategic ally.
Saudi Arabia, another key Pakistani ally, helped facilitate a reconciliation by hosting private talks at its embassy in Islamabad, Pakistani newspapers have reported.
The British government — which often acts as the friendly face of Western allies when Pakistan's relations with the U.S. are strained — also was involved in attempts to resolve the dispute, which ground politics to a halt and threatened to undermine Pakistan's fragile democracy, analysts have said.
Respected national figures, journalists and civil society activists had criticized both sides for taking their confrontation dangerously near the point of no return.
The government and military fell out in December over allegations by Mansoor Ijaz, an American businessman of Pakistani origin, that the government had sought the help of the U.S. military last May to avert an army coup.
Ijaz claimed that Pakistan's then-ambassador to Washington, Hussain Haqqani, had asked him to act as a go-between. The government dismissed the claims, but was shocked when the army and ISI chiefs submitted sworn statements to the Supreme Court saying they thought that evidence Ijaz provided warranted further investigation.
Ijaz on Tuesday reiterated his refusal to testify in Pakistan, despite the judicial commission's assurances that it would guarantee his safety. The commission turned down his request to testify via video conferencing.
As a further signal of political reconciliation, Gilani on Wednesday withdrew his earlier accusation that the military had violated Pakistan's Constitution by submitting written testimony to the court without first having the government vet it.
The army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, had issued a statement last week that called the prime minister's charge "the most serious accusation possible," and asked him to withdraw it.
Gilani justified his U-turn by blaming the secretary to the Ministry of Defense for directly forwarding the statements to the court. Two weeks ago, the prime minister fired the secretary, a recently retired general and a friend of Kayani's.
Three days of intense politicking also saw the Supreme Court — which had appeared to side with the military on Memogate — take up a 1996 case about bribes that the ISI allegedly paid to politicians to help overthrow the government.
(Hussain is a McClatchy special correspondent.)
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