Pakistan's military warned Wednesday of "grievous consequences" for the country after the prime minister accused the Army chief of violating the constitution, adding to a sense of crisis that some believe could end in the ouster of government.
The government dismissed the defense secretary, a retired general seen as an Army representative within the civilian government, another ominous sign of near-open conflict in a nation that has seen repeated military coups in its six-decade history.
Tensions between the Army and the government of President Asif Ali Zardari have soared since a scandal involving a memo sent to Washington asking for its help in reining in the Army broke late last year. The memo outraged the Army, and the Supreme Court ordered a probe to establish whether it had been sanctioned by Zardari.
As part of the investigation, Army chief Gen. Ashfaq Pervez Kayani and the head of the main spy agency, Lt Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, submitted statements to the court in which they suggested the memo was part of a conspiracy against the Army.
This week, Prime Minister Yousuf Reza Gilani said in an interview to a Chinese newspaper that Kayani and Pasha had violated the constitution by doing this. The interview was also published by Pakistan's state-run news agency.
An Army statement said those allegations had "very serious ramifications with potentially grievous consequences for the country." It did not elaborate.
Around the same time, Defense Secretary Lt. Gen. Naeem Khalid Lodhi was fired because of "misconduct" relating to his role in submitting the statements to the court, according to a government official who didn't give his name because of the sensitivity of the situation.
Lodhi is regarded as having more power than the defense minister because of his direct ties to the Army high command.