ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari is in Dubai for treatment for a heart condition, the government said on Wednesday, with one source saying he had suffered a minor heart attack and fuelling speculation that the unpopular leader may resign.
The statement from the prime minister’s office said Zardari went to a Dubai hospital at the insistence of his children, who live there. It contradicted earlier reports from Zardari’s own office that the tests were scheduled and routine.
“The president went to Dubai following symptoms related to his pre-existing heart condition,” Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani’s media office said.
“The president will remain under observation and return to resume his normal functions as advised by the doctors.”
A presidential spokesman later quoted Zardari’s doctor as saying his condition was stable.
Outside the special ward at the American Hospital housing Zardari, Pakistani security guards and local officers guarded the area. Party members, diplomats and media milled about, waiting for word on his health.
A Pakistani source in Dubai familiar with the 56-year-old president’s condition told Reuters that he had suffered a minor heart attack.
“Two days ago, he had chest pain” and decided to go to Dubai, the source said, adding that Zardari had suffered a minor heart attack six years ago.
“Since then, he has been on medication.”
A Dubai-based member of Zardari’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), Mian Muneer Hans, said the president landed in Dubai around 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday.
“He walked to his car in the airport and was not on any ambulance,” said Hans, adding that he was accompanied by his doctor and petroleum minister Asim Hussain and taken straight to the American Hospital.
“He’s taking rest in the hospital now. He may be there for two to three days,” he added.
The hospital’s chief executive officer Thomas Murray, contacted by Reuters, declined to comment on the reports.
The rumors about his health and possible resignation swirled on Twitter and other social media.
“Some elements blew up this to create unrest in the country,” said Fauzia Wahab, a senior member of the PPP. “His visit to Dubai and having a medical check up is perfectly normal.”
Pakistan’s civilian government has been under extreme pressure in recent weeks following the resignation of its ambassador to Washington over an alleged memo to the Pentagon asking for help in forestalling a feared coup attempt in May.
Zardari was due to address parliament this week after the Supreme Court admitted an opposition leader’s petition demanding a judicial inquiry into the memo issue, including any role played by Zardari. That address has now been postponed.
If he were to leave office, he would become vulnerable to long-standing corruption charges in Pakistan by losing his legal immunity as a head of state.
It would also require presidential elections within 30 days. Given the fractious and nature of Pakistani coalition politics, the flurry of horsetrading and grandstanding would push any efforts to repair relations with Pakistan’s neighbors and the United States onto the backburner.
But there would unlikely be much change in regional policy, given the military runs the national security and foreign relations portfolios.
Zardari was elected in 2008 following the assassination of his wife, former prime minister Benazir Bhutto. She had returned from self-imposed exile in a power-sharing deal between her PPP and then military President Pervez Musharraf.
Dogged by allegations of corruption and incompetence, he is not popular. A November 4 poll by Gallup Pakistan found that 71 percent of Pakistanis would prefer to see an early end to his government, which has struggled with providing basic services, natural disasters and relations with the military.
Tension between the government and military have bedeviled the nuclear-armed South Asian country for most of its existence, with the military ruling the country for more than half of its 64-year history after a series of coups.
Relations with the United States have been rocked by a year of bust-ups despite some $20 billion in security and economic aid to Pakistan since 2001, much of it in the form of reimbursements for assistance in fighting militants.
First there was the jailing of a CIA contractor for shooting dead two Pakistanis in the city of Lahore. Then there was the secret U.S. commando raid inside Pakistan in May that killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, and then came U.S. accusations that Pakistan was involved in attacks on American targets in Afghanistan.
It was also further rocked by a Nov 26 NATO strike on two Pakistani border posts that killed 24 soldiers, infuriating the country’s powerful military which also has a tense relationship with Zardari.
Additional reporting by Rebecca Conway in ISLAMABAD and Faisal Aziz in KARACHI, and Amena Bakr and Praveen Menon in DUBAI; Writing by Chris Allbritton; Editing by Jonathan Thatcher