Crisis in Pakistan: PM fires defense secretary
This is something you just don't do if you're a civilian government leader in Pakistan.
A scandal over a secret memo seeking US help to reign in the army has pushed the nuclear-armed country into a period of exceptional uncertainty by forcing a long-running civilian-military power struggle into the open.
Yusuf Raza Gilani, the prime minister, injected a fresh twist into the drama on Wednesday when he sacked the defence secretary, Naeem Khalid Lodhi, a retired general close to the military establishment, which sees itself as Pakistan's ultimate guardian.
A statement issued by Mr Gilani's office said Mr Lodhi had committed "gross misconduct" but did not elaborate.
Any sign of hostilities between politicians and soldiers causes alarm through Pakistan where generals have repeatedly staged coups and where stability rests on a precarious balance between centres of military, civilian and judicial power.
That balance has been tested in recent months following allegations that Asif Ali Zardari, the president, authorised the despatch of the memo seeking US help to decisively assert civilian control over the army following the raid that killed Osama Bin Laden in May.
Mr Zardari has denied the allegations - which infuriated the military -- and his supporters say they form part of a conspiracy to destabilise the government.
The military may get very upset but it is unlikely - at this point - that they would initiate a coup against the civilian government. Pakistan is beset with numerous problems - security, economic, social - and the last thing the military wants to do is take control and be responsible for them. They would much rather sit on the sidelines and wield their influence without having to deal with all the messy political consequences.
Still, President Zardari is in very bad shape. He was almost arrested after returning to the country following some medical treatment abroad - at least the rumors were flying that he would be. And his rivals are nibbling at his flanks over several issues, not the least of which is the growing scourge of terrorism that has escalated in recent months.
Expect the PM to throw a bone to the military to try and assauge their feelings over this firing. The fact is, neither side can afford a public breach given the precarious state of the nation.