Asif Ali Zardari’s office says he is undergoing a routine checkup, dismissing reports he is set to quit after suffering a heart attack
Pakistan’s embattled president, Asif Ali Zardari, has been hospitalised in Dubai with a heart condition, triggering speculation that it could be used as an excuse for him to step down amid growing pressure from the military.
A government adviser said Zardari had suffered a “minor heart attack”, but this was at odds with the official spokesman for the president, who said the president had gone for routine tests for a pre-existing heart condition.
Rumours of a coup or a resignation forced by the military consumed the media and the internet, fuelled by a report in Foreign Policy magazine that said Zardari was “incoherent” on Monday night during a telephone conversation with Barack Obama.
Zardari’s son and political heir-apparent, Bilawal, met prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani in Islamabad, adding to media hysteria about imminent change. Bilawal is chairman of the ruling Pakistan Peoples party.
The speculation hit a receptive, febrile political atmosphere, rocked by a diplomatic scandal and the recent jolt to relations with the US over the deaths of Pakistani soldiers at a border checkpost.
Pakistan has been ruled for half its existence by the military, and the armed forces have pulled the strings the rest of the time, meaning that the threat of coups are ever present .
Zardari’s aides said he would not resign. The president is deeply unpopular with Pakistan’s military establishment, which is widely believed to be behind repeated attempts to oust him.
“He had a minor heart attack on Tuesday. He flew to Dubai where he had an angioplasty. He’s in good health now. He will come back tomorrow. There’s no question of any resignation,” Mustafa Khokhar, the government’s adviser on human rights told the AFP news agency.
However, Farhatullah Babar, the president’s spokesman, dismissed media speculation, saying “Zardari is in a Dubai hospital for medical tests and checkup as planned”.
The president is under pressure from the “memogate” scandal in Pakistan, where he is accused of being behind a written offer delivered to the US military leadership in the days after the raid on Osasma bin Laden in May this year.
The anonymous memo offered to rein in the Pakistani military, in return for US support. Pakistan’s former US ambassador and close Zardari aide, Husain Haqqani, has already been forced to resign over the issue and faces possible treason charges.
Ali Dayan Hasan, of Human Rights Watch, the international campaigning group, warned against any military intervention. “Constitutional rule of law must be followed and civilian supremacy must be maintained,” he said. “Governance must be through genuine periodic elections.”