Zardari in Dubai Hospital; Coup Rumors Quelled for Now

Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari (Wikimedia Commons)

Late Tuesday afternoon, Twitter was awash in a flurry of rumors on the status of Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari. One tweet that was repeated over and over stated that Zardari had been sedated, flown to Abu Dhabi, and would leave as soon as possible for London due to a medical condition. Then Josh Rogin put up a story at Foreign Policy stating that Zardari was in Dubai after complaining of chest pains and that there was a possibility that he would resign before returning to Pakistan. After first stating that Zardari was in Dubai only for medical tests relating to a known previous heart condition, the Pakistani government later stated that Zardari had suffered a minor heart attack and was in Dubai for treatment, which many have described as angioplasty.  Zardari is expected to return to Pakistan soon.

The tweet that set things off appears to have come from Najam Sethi, whose twitter profile lists him as “Editor, The Friday Times, & Group Advisor GEO TV; Senior Fellow New America Foundation, Washington DC; Eric Lane Fellow Clare College Cambridge University UK”. Although the tweet doesn’t seem to be in his timeline now, retweets put it as: “Prez Zardari sedated and taken to hosp in AbuDhabi. He will go to London asap. Faranaz Ispahani with him but not HH!” Tweets that are still in his timeline state that he meant to say Dubai, but he had just returned from Abu Dhabi and typed that instead. There is an additional tweet stating that he still expects Zardari to go to London.

Faranaz Isphahani is Zardari’s spokeswoman, “HH” is presumed to refer to former US Ambassador Husain Haqqani, who resigned in the memo scandal and has been placed on the Exit Control List, preventing his exit from Pakistan.

An even higher level of Twitter activity ensued after Josh Rogin Tweeted a link to his story at Foreign Policy.  The key aspect to Rogin’s story was information received from “a former US government official”:

A former U.S. government official told The Cable today that when President Barack Obama spoke with Zardari over the weekend regarding NATO’s killing of the 24 Pakistani soldiers, Zardari was “incoherent.” The Pakistani president had been feeling increased pressure over the Memogate scandal. “The noose was getting tighter — it was only a matter of time,” the former official said, expressing the growing expectation inside the U.S. government that Zardari may be on the way out.

The former U.S. official said that parts of the U.S. government were informed that Zardari had a “minor heart attack” on Monday night and flew to Dubai via air ambulance today. He may have angioplasty on Wednesday and may also resign on account of “ill health.”

Rogin then went on to quote another source on a potential coup:

“If true, this is the ‘in-house change option’ that has been talked about,” said Shuja Nawaz, director of the South Asia Center at the Atlantic Council, in a Tuesday interview with The Cable. Nawaz said that under this scenario,  Zardari would step aside and be replaced by his own party, preserving the veneer of civilian rule but ultimately acceding to the military’s wishes to get rid of Zardari.

Rogin later provided this update to the story:

UPDATE: A Pakistani source close to Zardari e-mailed into The Cable to say that Zardari is simply ill and is not stepping down. Rumors of Zardari stepping down might be part of a behind the scenes power play but Zardari confidante Senate Chairman Farooq Naek will be acting president while Zardari is out of the country and Gilani remains loyal to Zardari, flanked by Zardari’s son Bilawal. “The rumors of a silent coup are sometimes a way of trying to effect a silent coup. It won’t happen,” the source said.

All other reporting on the incident is more consistent with the story of medical treatment in Dubai with Zardari’s return expected.  From the Express Tribune:

President Zardari suffered a “minor heart attack” and was in Dubai for a small operation and said that he will return to Islamabad on Thursday as he was in good health, a minister confirmed earlier on Wednesday.

Mustafa Khokhar, minister in charge of human rights, told AFP that despite media reports there was “no question of any resignation” by Zardari, who is under pressure over a scandal that saw his ambassador to the US step down.

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, said Khokhar.

The difficulty in determining just what is taking place is increased by the history of coups in Pakistan.  From the Washington Post:

The departure was enough to set a country with a history of military coups, and where no elected government has ever lasted a full term, aswirl with rumors. According to some theories, the army had urged Zardari to step aside and he elected to do so outside the country — perhaps to avoid prosecution for various allegations of corruption.

Zardari was elected in September of 2008 and new elections are not expected until 2013 (when it is possible Pervez Musharraf will run again), so there is still over a year to go if Pakistan is to maintain its record of no government ever serving a full term.

This is obviously a fluid situation and I will try to provide updates as new information becomes available. It should be kept in mind that if Zardari did suffer a mild heart attack and then was treated with angioplasty, patients in this situation often are discharged from the hospital the next day and are usually free to resume normal activities fairly quickly. Should the hospitalization continue into next week, then either the status of Zardari’s health or the status of the political situation should be assumed to be different from what has been reported.

11 replies
  1. rugger9 says:

    However, given the general instability and many competing factions, now would be the time to pull the trigger on the coup if it’s there. The question is who’s going to do it and just how much do they hate us?

  2. scribe says:

    What, they don’t do angioplasty in Pakistan?

    What about all those folks who’ve taken to medical tourism to avoid high Western hospital/medical prices?

    Or is it a matter of his not trusting Pakistani doctors to wake him up when they’re done with the operation?

  3. emptywheel says:

    @scribe: As Jim and I were noting off list, Zardari’s immediate family (father-in-law and wife) have a sort of bad history of with health in Pakistan.

  4. BoxTurtle says:

    It has always struck me as odd how many VIP from the mideast and far east go to another country to have any significant work done. The Saudi’s go to Mayo clinic. North Africa seems to prefer France.

    Is it security or quality of treatment, I wonder…

    Boxturtle (Were I Zardari, I’d be really worried about a coup right now)

  5. Jim White says:

    I can’t help thinking there is more to this story than just fishermen:

    At least three Pakistani fishermen were gunned down, two others were injured by Iranian security forces on Wednesday as they entered Iranian territorial waters near Pasaband area, about 40-kilometer off Jiwani coast in Pakistan.

    The trawler was engaged in illegal fishing and all the victims belonged to the Sindh province, who had entered Balochistan from Karachi.

    District Police Officer (DPO) Gwadar, Liaquat Baloch confirmed the incident and said that the bodies had not been handed over to Pakistani officials yet.

    “A trawler called Al-Mariam had entered Balochistan from Karachi. The trawler entered Iranian territorial waters where Iranian security forces opened fire on them, killing three crew members on the spot while injuring two others,” he added.

    Station Officer of Jiwani, Imam Baksh said that there were 20 to 25 people on-board and were engaged in illegal fishing. All on-board the vessel were in the custody of Iranian security forces.

    “There were two trawlers, one of which escaped when Iranian forces opened fire, and they captured the second,” he added.

    Keep in mind that the attackers in the Mumbai attacks arrived by fishing trawler.

  6. Jim White says:

    @emptywheel: You mean besides getting a discount on the angioplasty?

    Perhaps he might want to have some input on just whom they allow to come onto the base and what sort of missions they are allowed to fly. I don’t know the terms of the current agreement, though, so I don’t know if that’s already in there. The linked article states that the base was leased to UAE pre-9/11 and then given to the US, so that makes it sound like Pakistan retains ownership.

  7. junaid says:

    Pakistan doesnt do angioplasty for preseidents it only does for those who pay. secondly y should memogate be a pessure for zardari who is well supported by USA. further mansoor ijaz statement is being more credence than due to him. He is business man add what was he to get for delevering the memo? what did he not get that he revealed it and let his partners down? Why does somedbody not probe? what was the deal betweeen Mansoon ijaz and the other players ?

  8. Jim White says:

    @junaid: I agree that asking questions about Ijaz is very important. I went over some of his background in this post. My feeling is that both his neocon associates and his business interests get more of what they want from a coup than from Zardari prevailing.

  9. Jim White says:

    Heh. I’ve kept a Tweetdeck search column open today on the term “Zardari”. The funniest tweet I saw flash by was along the lines of “The media have predicted eight of the last three Pakistan coups.”

  10. marc says:

    Hmmmm…..nearly every doctor in my California HMO is Pakistani yet the President of Pakistan has to go to Abu Dhabi for medical care……interesting.

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