Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari is reportedly planning to spend two more weeks recuperating in a hospital in Dubai, much longer than expected. The news is only likely to stoke speculation of a possible coup, despite the authorities’ best efforts to tamp down such talk.
The circumstances under which Zardari left Pakistan for treatment certainly give considerable credence to speculation that some sort of takeover might be in the offing. The so-called “Memogate” scandal has bruised the relationship between the Pakistani Army and the civilian government, with the Army alleging that the former Pakistani ambassador to the United States, Husain Haqqani, gave an unsigned memo to the U.S. government in which he talked of reining in the powerful Army and its spy agency in return for Washington’s help in averting a feared coup.
The deadly NATO attack on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border late last month, which killed two dozen Pakistani troops, has further strained ties between Rawalpindi and Islamabad.
The mounting agitation by opposition parties, particularly by the Imran Khan-led Tehreek-e-Insaf, has also undermined the credibility of the ruling Pakistan’s People’s Party (PPP). Possible desertions have weakened Zardari, and with senior party leader Shah Mehmood Qureshi having left last month to join Khan, there are fears more lawmakers will abandon the PPP, pulling the rug from under Zardari.
Karachi-based journalist Badar Alam has said that “such a combination in the past has sufficed to overthrow the government in Pakistan, and Zardari and his government are competing against history to survive.”Indeed, in a recent article, Alam outlined a series of incidents that seem to support speculation over Zardari’s resignation, or a “soft coup”.
According to Alam: “Only three days before his departure for Dubai…Zardari had announced (his intention) to address a joint sitting of parliament immediately after Muharram on Tuesday. If his medical tests were pre-planned as his spokesperson is now claiming, why did he say he will soon address parliament?
“Zardari’s itinerary for Tuesday also raised many eyebrows. He met Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, Senate Chairman Farooq Nayek and Interior Minister Rehman Malik. And then on Wednesday, the president’s son Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, who is also the head of the PPP, met Gilani without any prior information.”
Though nothing may come of this speculation this time, the fact that there could be such widespread discussion reflects just how unstable Pakistan has become.