Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari is likely to spend another two weeks convalescing in Dubai as he recovers from a mild stroke that saw him suddenly leave the country amid a growing political crisis involving the government.
Senior aides close to the president said that Mr Zardari suffered a “transient ischemic attack” last week after enduring weeks of high stress. His son and political heir, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, urged Mr. Zardari to seek expert medical attention abroad.
The first indication of Mr Zardari’s illness came during a phone call he received from US President Barack Obama, who wanted to express his condolences for the deaths of 24 Pakistani soldiers killed in NATO air strikes on November 26. During the call, US officials said, Mr Zardari was “utterly incoherent”.
“Obama was talking about Mohmand,” a US official said, in a reference to the tribal area where the NATO air strikes took place, “and Zardari was just talking about Memogate.” Memogate is a reference to the political scandal unfolding in Pakistan that has seen Mr Zardari’s government secretly asking the US military for help in reining in Pakistan’s powerful generals.
Mr Zardari’s government is being accused of “treason” by his political opponents after Mansoor Ijaz, an American businessman, alleged that he acted as a secret backchannel to pass a memo detailing the plans to tame Pakistan’s overweening army to Admiral Mike Mullen, the then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The memo was delivered to Adm Mullen five days after the covert US raid that killed Osama bin Laden. Mr Ijaz says that the memo, promising Washington an ambitious and pro-American overhaul of Pakistan’s national security apparatus, was written amid jitters of a coup at the time.
Husain Haqqani, the man Mr Ijaz alleges orchestrated the memo, has been forced to quit as Pakistan’s ambassador to the US. Mr Haqqani stoutly denies the claim and is preparing to make his defense in front of Pakistan’s Supreme Court and parliament.
In his latest claim, Mr Ijaz has alleged that Mr Zardari and his appointed envoy also had advance knowledge of the bin Laden raid. US officials dismiss the claim as “ridiculous” and Mr Zardari’s government strenuously deny that they knew of Washington’s plans.
But on Monday, the Pakistani commission investigating the bin Laden raid widened their net of suspicion and summoned Wajid Shamsul Hasan, Pakistan’s High Commissioner to the UK. “At no stage neither I, nor the military or civilian leadership, knew about the operation,” Mr Hasan said in a denial