Pakistan's president Asif Ali Zardari has suffered a “cardiovascular episode” and has been hospitalised in Dubai, politicians and aides close to him said.
Mr Zardari, who has a history of health problems, was flown to the gulf emirate on Tuesday night amid a frenzy of speculation. He fell ill on Monday and was urged to go abroad to seek medical attention, the aides said.
A statement from the office of Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani yesterday said Mr Zardari had shown “symptoms related to his heart condition” and is being kept in Dubai for observation.
Wajid Shamsul Hasan, Pakistan’s High Commissioner to the UK, told The Independent that Mr Zardari had suffered an “angina attack” before in 2005 and was treated for two blocked arteries. Mr Hasan added that Mr Zardari may travel on to London to receive further medical attention.
The illness, the details of which are still to emerge in full, comes as Mr Zardari is embattled in a growing political crisis at home. The weak civilian government’s opponents have accused Mr Zardari and the former envoy to the US, Husain Haqqani, of being behind a plot to solicit support from the US military to rein in Pakistan’s generals in the days after the covert raid that killed Osama bin Laden.
Mr Haqqani, who has stepped down as ambassador to Washington, stoutly denies that he or Mr Zardari were ever involved. The scheme was said to have been laid out in a memo passed to the then top US military commander, Adm Mike Mullen, by Mansoor Ijaz, a controversial Pakistani-American businessman. “Memogate” as the controversy has become known is the focus of Supreme Court and parliamentary investigations.
The accumulating stress likely triggered Mr Zardari’s illness. “He had some illness which could be a complication of his heart condition and anxiety due to the extraordinary conditions in the country,” a senior aide to Mr Zardari said. “Only doctors can tell what exactly it was.”
A senior politician from Mr Zardari’s ruling Pakistan People’s Party said that the president was in a state of “high agitation” on Monday. “It was very upsetting to hear him like this,” the politician said. “He was speaking in disjointed and disoriented terms. In his hysteria, he was angry at the world.” Other aides confirmed that Mr Zardari experienced the range of emotions described.
Mr Zardari left for Dubai on Tuesday evening after being urged by his son and other members of his inner sanctum. Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the Chairman of the PPP and the son of slain former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, flew to Islamabad to ask his father to board the plane. There was a concern among the aides that perhaps Mr Zardari’s medication was not working properly. At first, Mr Zardari was refusing to leave and wanted to stay and fight his political battles, the aides said.
The news of Mr Zardari’s departure sparked rumours in Pakistan after initial statements that he went to Dubai for “prescheduled” and “routine” medical checks were deemed implausible. At one point on Tuesday night, there were even short-lived rumours of a military coup.