Why Pakistan's Zardari Will Not Fall to a Military Coup

The Standoff Between the Country's Big Three

(Athar Hussain / Courtesy Reuters)

Pakistan's three pillars of state -- the army, the government, and the judiciary -- are locked in a draw. You know the kind: three gunmen, all with guns in both hands, aim fearfully at one another, each unwilling to make the first move. As any good connoisseur of Westerns knows, he who fires first is at a tactical disadvantage. The second to discharge his weapon usually wins. That is why Pakistan has seen plenty of political machinations in recent weeks, but, as yet, no fatal shot.

The current crisis started in October, when an American businessman of Pakistani origin, Mansoor Ijaz, claimed that he was asked to deliver a secret letter to U.S. Admiral Mike Mullen on behalf of Pakistan's civilian government. The anonymous memo requested U.S. protection from a military coup that the government feared was in the offing. In return, Islamabad offered to dismantle part of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Pakistan's powerful spy agency. Ijaz later claimed that the author of the memo was none other than Husain Haqqani, Pakistan's ambassador to the United States, who, Ijaz said, had written the letter at the request of Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari. 

After the revelations, Pakistan's military, egged on by an outraged media and opposition, demanded an investigation. Happy to oblige, the Supreme Court set up a three-judge bench to look into "Memogate." Islamabad recalled Haqqani from Washington. He resigned and then holed himself up in Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani's residence, fearing for his life. 

Meanwhile, Gilani and the military are fighting a war of words; he called the army a "state within a state" and decried its independent submission of affidavits for the Memogate case to the Supreme Court as "unconstitutional and illegal." In turn, the army warned Zardari and Gilani of "very serious ramifications with potentially grievous consequences" if the government did not back off. That menacing response, coupled with Gilani's sudden sacking last week of a senior bureaucrat in the

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