ISLAMABAD — Pakistan's army chief paid a visit to the country's president Saturday in a meeting that may signal a willingness for reconciliation between the military and the civilian government after a week of escalating tensions and rumours of an impending coup.
Army chief Gen. Ashfaq Pervez Kayani and President Asif Ali Zardari discussed the "current security situation", according to the state-run news agency. Officials declined to provide more details on the encounter.
Friction between the military and the government has spiked after an unsigned memo was sent to Washington last year asking for its help in heading off a supposed coup. The note enraged the army, which was still smarting from the humiliation of last year's covert US raid that killed Osama Ben Laden in the north of Islamabad.
The army has staged at least three coups in Pakistan's six-decade history and still considers itself the true custodian of the country's interests. On Wednesday, it warned of "grievous consequences" for the country in an unusual statement, raising fear it might try again to oust the government.
Analysts say Gen. Kayani has little appetite for a coup, but they say the generals may be happy to allow the supreme court to dismiss the government by "constitutional means”. The court has legitimised earlier coups.
The nuclear-armed country is facing a host of problems, among them near economic collapse, a virulent Al Qaeda- and Taliban-led insurgency, and a crisis in its relations with its key ally, the United States, following NATO air strikes in November that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers on the Afghan border.
That attack has prompted Islamabad to review its coordination with US and NATO forces, and on Saturday Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani vowed to protect Pakistani sovereignty in new rules being drawn up to regulate such coordination.
"Pakistan's sovereignty and territorial integrity are not negotiable," Gilani said at the opening of a special committee to discuss the fallout over the air strikes. "We would reject any approach that would tend to compromise our sovereignty, honour and national dignity."
Islamabad shut NATO and US supply routes running into Afghanistan through Pakistan in response to the air strikes.
Parliamentarians have recommended that Islamabad seek "guarantees" that Washington will respect the country's sovereignty and avoid any future violations of the country's borders, said Khursheed Ahmed, a member of parliament's national security committee. He declined to elaborate.
A US investigation into the incident found that Pakistani forces fired first and that American troops acted in self-defence. But US efforts to determine whether there were Pakistani forces in the area were foiled by bad maps, poor coordination and Islamabad's failure to provide the locations of its border posts, according to the report.
Pakistani army spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas has rejected the US findings and insisted that Pakistani forces retaliated only after coalition helicopters "started engagement". He also denied that Pakistan failed to notify NATO of the location of the two border posts that were attacked.
Gilani said the committee planned to consider the US report on the border incident, without elaborating.
The prime minister has called for a "show of confidence" vote in parliament Monday to support the government. In the latest violence in the northwest, gunmen and suicide bombers attacked a police station, sparking a firefight that killed one officer and three civilians, said Bahawal Khan, a local police official. The militants struck about midday Saturday in Dera Ismail Khan district and fighting continued for hours afterward.
About eight or 10 attackers wearing police uniforms besieged the station, and three suicide bombers detonated their explosives during the battle, police said. Another attacker was killed in the fighting.
The district sits at the edge of South Waziristan tribal region that served as Pakistani Taliban headquarters before the Pakistani army launched an offensive in late 2009.