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Pakistan's prime minister sacks defense chief

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 8:48 AM EST, Wed January 11, 2012
Pakistan's Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani (above) has fired his defense secretary for
Pakistan's Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani (above) has fired his defense secretary for "gross misconduct and illegal action."
  • Defense Secretary Naeem Khalid Lodhi was fired Wednesday
  • The move comes after the military slammed reported remarks by the prime minister
  • Yousuf Raza Gilani accused top military leaders of violating the constitution
  • Tensions have been running high since the so-called Memogate scandal

Islamabad, Pakistan (CNN) -- Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani fired his defense secretary Wednesday, a move that spiked tensions between the South Asian nation's civilian government and its all-powerful military.

The prime minister's spokesman confirmed to CNN the firing of Naeem Khalid Lodhi. State media reported that it was for "gross misconduct and illegal action."

The move came after Pakistan's military issued a statement warning of "grievous consequences" of a Gilani interview in The People's Daily Online of China. In it, the military said, Gilani accused the army's chief of staff and the head of the Inter-Services Intelligence spy agency of violating the constitution.

"There can be no allegation more serious than what the honorable prime minister has leveled," the statement said. "This has very serious ramifications with potentially grievous consequences for the country."

The latest tension comes as Pakistan's Supreme Court investigates a controversial, unsigned memo allegedly drafted by the civilian leadership in which it asked the United States to help rein in the nation's powerful military.

The so-called Memogate scandal has unleashed waves of political intrigue in recent weeks, and the media has described a government on a collision course with its own army.

Last month, Gilani spoke provocatively of plots to topple the government.

Later, he accepted an army statement pledging support for the democratic process.

"We have been trying to remain on the same page (with the military) for the last four years," Gilani said in an attempt to temper his comments.

In its 64 years of existence, Pakistan has had to balance its civilian and military leadership. Pakistanis have lived through three military coups and decades of military dictatorship.

Memogate, wrote businessman Mansoor Ijaz, whose column in October touched off the scandal, publicly exposed the tensions.

A series of events have also added to the furor.

The U.S. killing of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden during a May raid on a compound located only about a mile from the Pakistan Military Academy in Abbottabad enraged the Pakistani public and deeply embarrassed the military.

Relations became even more strained in November, after NATO forces said they mistakenly killed two dozen Pakistani soldiers in airstrikes near the Afghan border -- an attack the United States insists was an act of self-defense after its troops were fired upon.

Pakistan's government has formally disputed the findings of the U.S. investigation into the airstrike, saying the bombardment went on long after it reported its troops were under fire.

The United States launched its first drone attack in Pakistan Tuesday after more than a month-long lull, killing at least four suspected militants, CNN confirmed.

The drone fired two missiles Tuesday at a suspected militant compound near the provincial capital of Miranshah in the North Waziristan region, located in the country's volatile tribal belt that borders Afghanistan.

Abdul Basit, spokesman for Pakistan's foreign ministry, told CNN Wednesday that Pakistan did not allow for Tuesday's strike nor has it ever granted such permission to the United States.

"We have strong reservations on the drone strikes because this is a violation of our sovereignty. We can't accept violation of our sovereignty."

Journalist Nasir Habib contributed to this story.

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