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Pakistani Army Chief Dismisses Coup Rumors

Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, center, and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, right, Islamabad, Pakistan, June 11, 2011.

General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, current chief of Pakistan’s powerful military, has denied reports his institution intends to oust the country's civilian government.

His statement comes a day after Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said “conspirators” are attempting to undermine his coalition government and sharply criticized the military for behaving like a state within the state.

An official statement released by the military on Friday quotes Kayani as saying speculation about a coup is meant to divert attention from real issues, but did not elaborate further.

The statement reiterates what Kayani calls the military's “continued support” for the democratic process in Pakistan and dismisses rumors of a possible military takeover as misleading.

Hassan Askari, an analyst and former professor at University of the Punjab, says the prime minister’s statement was an overreaction.

"I think under the present circumstance it is neither advisable nor possible for the military to assume political power," he says. "It will land into more trouble and more problems by assuming direct power. It can be more influential and it can achieve its objectives from the sidelines and perhaps that’s what they are going to do.”

Tensions between Pakistani civilian and military leaders have escalated in recent weeks over an alleged presidential memo asking Washington for help against a feared military coup in Pakistan.

The memo was delivered to the U.S. in May, just days after a secret U.S. raid killed Osama bin Laden in a Pakistani garrison town.

The country’s Supreme Court is considering whether to order an investigation into the scandal surrounding the memo. Kayani, who submitted an affidavit to the court asking it to investigate the scandal, says the memo is a "reality" and an attempt to endanger national security, and that an investigation is needed to identify those behind it. But the prime minister says the memo is a non-issue and that his government has nothing to do with it.

Askari says that the opposing positions on the memo, along with the political opposition's relentless accusations against the government of widespread corruption and bad governance, may have left the impression that the army wants to remove the government.

"So the fear was that perhaps there is connivance between military and opposition to knock out the government," says Askari. "Therefore, the prime minister made this statement criticizing [the] army’s behavior and then [the] situation became tense, but now with [Kayani's] statement [the] situation is somewhat calmed.”

During a fresh hearing into the memo scandal on Friday, Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry also moved to allay fears about a possible coup, saying there is “no question of a military takeover.”

A Pakistani-American businessman, Mansoor Ijaz, has alleged that Pakistan’s ambassador to Washington, Hussain Haqqani, wrote the memo and asked him to deliver it to Admiral Mike Mullen, the top U.S. military official at the time.

Haqqani denies the allegations but was forced to resign after the scandal erupted.