Pakistan president goes to Dubai amid new crisis
ISLAMABAD - Agence France-Presse
In this Friday, July 1, 2011 file photo, Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari, followed by his son Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, chairman of the Pakistan Peoples Party, exits after his meeting with Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron at his official residence at 10 Downing street Street in central London. AP PhotoPakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari was in Dubai Thursday for a brief scheduled visit, an aide said, against a backdrop of mounting tension as the government faces new challenges to its rule.
The one-day trip came after a confrontation between Pakistan's civilian leaders and the military over an probe into the government's role in a scandal centred on a mysterious memo that sought US help in curbing the army's power.
"President has gone to Dubai to attend a wedding and may also have routine medical check-up," a close aide told AFP.
"He will return tomorrow (Friday)," he said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to media.
Zardari, who has a long-standing heart condition, spent more than a week in a Dubai hospital for treatment last month in a trip which triggered a frenzy of speculation and coup rumours.
The aide said the latest trip was a "private visit" and not linked to the crisis which erupted Wednesday when the army reacted angrily to criticism from Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani over a probe into the "Memogate" furore.
The scandal centres on an unsigned memo allegedly sent by an aide of Zardari to the US military last May, apparently to avert a possible coup in the wake of the killing of Osama bin Laden by US Navy SEALs in Pakistan.
The memo has pitted the army against President Asif Ali Zardari's weak civilian administration, and the Supreme Court is now tasked with deciding if the government endorsed the note, and if so, if it can remain in power.
But an accusation by the prime minister in Chinese media this week that the chiefs of the army and main intelligence agency had failed to make submissions to the court through proper government channels set the civilian leaders on a path for confrontation and was bluntly denied by top brass.
The army warned the comments could have "grievous consequences for the country", triggering the immediate sacking of the defence secretary -- a top government bureaucrat considered too close to the generals.
Pakistan has been under military dictatorships for about half its history since independence in 1947, its civilian leaders thrown out in three coups.
Analysts say that although Pakistan's government now looks dangerously isolated, another coup is unlikely and that early elections, possibly in the first half of this year, are a more plausible outcome.
Gilani sought to minimise confrontation in the immediate aftermath of Wednesday's row, but analysts believe the government could see its real test come when the court investigating the memo returns its findings.
Zardari has had difficult relations with the courts since he initially refused to reinstate the chief justice on coming to power in 2008 elections held after the assassination of his wife, former prime minister Benazir Bhutto.
That relationship has only worsened as his civilian administration has clung to power through repeated crises, with the judiciary bent on pursuing a host of long-running corruption cases against Zardari and other government figures.
The Supreme Court two weeks ago set up the Memogate commission. Top intelligence chief Ahmed Shuja Pasha has called for a "forensic examination" of the memo.
The government is due to set out its position to the commission on Monday and its findings are expected to be presented by the end of the month.