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Pakistani president and army chief meet amid crisis

ISLAMABAD - Pakistan’s army chief visited to the country’s president yesterday in a meeting that might signal a willingness for reconciliation between the military and the civilian government after a week of escalating tensions and rumors of an impending coup.

General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani and President Asif Ali Zardari discussed the current security situation, according to the state-run news agency.

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Friction between the military and the government has spiked after an unsigned memo was sent to Washington last year asking for its help in heading off a supposed coup. The note enraged the army, which was still smarting from the humiliation of last year’s covert US raid that killed Osama bin Laden north of Islamabad.

Zardari’s office welcomed the meeting with Kayani and said it should help relations.

Qamar Zaman Kaira, information secretary for the president’s Pakistan People’s Party, said the meeting was not routine, “given Pakistan’s situation, the heat that is being felt.’’

He told Pakistani television that “certainly this meeting will make things better. . . . It will improve the tense situation.’’

The army has staged at least three coups in Pakistan’s six- decade history and still considers itself the true custodian of the country’s interests.

Analysts say General Kayani has little appetite for a coup, but that the generals might be happy to allow the Supreme Court to dismiss the government by “constitutional means.’’ The court has legitimized earlier coups.

The nuclear-armed country is facing a host of problems, among them near economic collapse, a virulent Al Qaeda- and Taliban-led insurgency, and a crisis in its relations with its key ally, the United States, after NATO airstrikes in November killed 24 Pakistani soldiers on the Afghan border.

A US investigation found that Pakistani forces fired first and that US troops acted in self- defense. US efforts to determine whether there were Pakistani forces in the area were foiled by bad maps, poor coordination, and Islamabad’s failure to provide the locations of its border posts, according to the report.

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