Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, who was in Dubai for medical treatment, returned yesterday to Pakistan, where tension is rising between his civilian government and the military over a memo accusing the country’s generals of plotting a coup.
It is not clear when the deeply unpopular leader who has uneasy ties with the army will return to work.
“The president is thankfully fit and healthy and that is why he has returned,” said Shazia Marri, information minister for Sindh province, of which Karachi is the capital. “However, his activities over the next few days will depend on what the doctors advise.”
Zardari could be damaged by the memo, reportedly crafted by the former Pakistani ambassador to the US, which wants ally Pakistan stable so it can help wind the war down in Afghanistan.
Businessperson Mansoor Ijaz, writing in a column in the Financial Times on Oct. 10, said a senior Pakistani diplomat had asked that a memo be delivered to the Pentagon with a plea for US help to stave off a military coup in the days after the raid that killed Osama bin Laden.
Ijaz later identified the diplomat as Husain Haqqani, the then-Pakistani ambassador to Washington who is close to Zardari.
Haqqani denied involvement in the memo, but resigned over the what has been dubbed “memogate.”
The Pakistani Supreme Court yesterday started hearings into a petition demanding an inquiry into who was behind it. As president, Zardari is immune from prosecution, but the controversy could seriously damage him politically.
If a link is proven, the military, which has long been distrustful of Zardari, could push for his ouster.
Although Zardari has been a largely ceremonial president since constitutional amendments last year, he wields considerable influence as leader of the ruling party and his forced departure would be a humiliation for the civilian leadership and would throw the country into turmoil.
While government officials have questioned Ijaz’s credibility, Pakistani army chief General Ashfaq Kayani has called for an investigation into the memo, which he said attempted to hurt national security.
Tension between Pakistan’s civilian government and military have bedeviled the nuclear-armed South Asian country for almost its entire existence, with the military ruling the country for more than half of its 64-year history after a series of coups.
About 30,000 Islamists staged a protest on Sunday to condemn the US and show support for Pakistan’s military, which has reasserted itself after a cross-border NATO attack and the memo that has weakened the civilian government.
Pakistan’s military, which has supported militants in Afghanistan and Indian Kashmir, was humiliated by the unilateral US special forces raid that killed bin Laden in a Pakistani town in May and faced unprecedented public criticism.
However, many Pakistanis rallied behind it after a Nov. 26 cross-border NATO air raid killed 24 Pakistani soldiers and plunged already troubled ties with Washington to a low point.
No evidence has emerged that the army was plotting a coup and the Pentagon at the time dismissed the memo as not credible.
Haqqani’s resignation was seen by many analysts as further weakening the civilian government, which is already beset by allegations of corruption and incompetence and is seen as failing to cope with many issues, such as the Taliban insurgency and a struggling economy.