KARACHI (Reuters) - A Pakistani minister has resigned after alleging the former head of military intelligence encouraged violent street demonstrations last year to try to unseat the government, the information minister said on Saturday.
The comments by Mushahid Ullah Khan, the federal minister for the environment, have once again exposed the fragile balance between Pakistan’s fledgling civilian government and its powerful military, which has a history of mounting coups.
On Friday, Pakistan’s Independence Day, Khan gave an interview to the BBC Urdu service about prolonged street demonstrations last year, led by opposition politician Imran Khan and fiery cleric Tahir ul-Qadri.
The two men had vowed to bring down the government over allegations of election-rigging and corruption.
Khan alleged that a civilian intelligence agency had recorded former Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) chief Lieutenant-General Zaheer-ul-Islam instructing protesters to cause chaos.
The tape had been played to the prime minister and chief of army staff, Khan said. He said he had not personally heard it.
Information Minister Pervaiz Rashid said Khan had submitted his resignation to the prime minister, who was considering it.
Military spokesman Major-General Asim Bajwa quickly denied the allegation.
“The story about any tape recording as being discussed in media is totally baseless, unfounded and farthest from (the) truth,” he tweeted. “Such rumors are irresponsible, and unprofessional.”
The interview fed fevered speculation in a nation where the relationship between the civilian government and the military is constantly scrutinized for any hint of tension.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s victory in 2013 elections marked Pakistan’s first civilian-to-civilian transfer of power. Relations between the government and military were initially rocky, and the street demonstrations fed national unease.
Since then, relations have improved as Sharif has aligned his position on security and foreign policy more closely to the military.
He has slowed efforts to improve relations with neighboring India, Pakistan’s nuclear rival. He has also handed the military responsibility for security in Karachi, the country’s biggest and richest city, and put generals in charge of executing the country’s national counter-terrorism plan.
Writing by Katharine Houreld; Editing by Mark Trevelyan