, ISLAMABAD, Dec 7 – Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari suffered a minor heart attack and has undergone an operation in Dubai, but is expected to return to Islamabad on Thursday, a minister told AFP on Wednesday.
Zardari’s admittance to hospital abroad came with the unpopular 56-year-old battling a major scandal at home over alleged attempts by a close aide to seek American help to limit the power of Pakistan’s military.
Mustafa Khokhar, minister in charge of human rights, said that contrary to media reports there was “no question of any resignation” by Zardari, who has already defied the expectations of many in remaining head of state since 2008.
“He had a minor heart attack on Tuesday. He flew to Dubai where he had an angioplasty. He’s in good health now. He will come back tomorrow. There’s no question of any resignation,” Khokhar told AFP on Wednesday.
State media said Zardari left for Dubai on Tuesday, accompanied by his physicians and personal staff, for routine tests linked to a “previously diagnosed cardiovascular condition”.
Zardari took office after his Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) won general elections in February 2008, three months after his wife, former prime minister Benazir Bhutto was assassinated.
Although he has survived numerous crises and calls for his resignation, he has come under growing pressure over a memo allegedly written by close aide Husain Haqqani asking for American assistance in curbing the powerful military.
Haqqani was forced to resign as ambassador to Washington last month and Zardari said Sunday that he would soon address a joint session of parliament.
It was not clear if the health scare would delay that plan.
Presidential spokesman Farhatullah Babar told AFP that Zardari was in hospital for tests and a planned medical check up, but dismissed media reports that he may be forced to step down as “speculative, imaginary and untrue”.
The website of the US magazine Foreign Policy reported that Zardari had been considering his resignation over health fears and the “Memogate scandal”.
The article quoted an unnamed former US government official as saying Zardari was “incoherent” when he spoke to President Barack Obama by telephone over the weekend following NATO air strikes that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.
The row centres on a memo sent in May to the US’ then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, seeking help over fears of a military coup following the US raid that killed Osama bin Laden.
Mansoor Ijaz, a Pakistani-American businessman, accused Haqqani of crafting the memo with Zardari’s support. Haqqani has denied involvement and investigators have yet to prove to what extent Zardari may have been involved.
The night raid by US Navy SEALS in a Pakistani garrison town on May 2 provoked outrage in Islamabad and humiliated the military, which was not informed of the operation beforehand.
Relations between the military and Zardari are understood to be tense. Haqqani’s departure was seen as forced by the army and the political pressure on Zardari is mounting ahead of elections expected as early as next autumn.