Islamabad, (IANS) President Asif Ali Zardari has left Pakistan, tense with rumours and fears of another military coup, and gone to Dubai amid a stand-off between an increasingly belligerent political leadership and the powerful military. Political parties were quick to speak up against a likely army take-over.
Zardari went to Dubai, a city where he was hospitalised last December over a heart ailment, media reports said Thursday.
According to Geo News Zardari left for Dubai on one-day private visit, while BBC report said that the president would be attending a wedding and returning to Pakistan. It did not give details of the wedding.
Presidential spokesperson Farhatullah Babar also said Zardari would return to Pakistan in 24 hours, reported Xinhua. It was not clear at what time would the 24-hour period end.
A month back, Zardari, 56, had abruptly left for Dubai from where he returned Dec 18 after nearly two weeks away from Islamabad, putting to rest rumours of a coup in Pakistan.
Zardari’s sudden departure then had led to intense speculation with Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani telling the Senate that an ailing president feared for his life in Pakistan hospitals.
The president now has left the country after Gilani Wednesday asserted his authority by dismissing defence secretary Naeem Khalid Lodhi, a retired lieutenant general widely seen to be close to army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani.
Gilani also accused the army chief and ISI chief Lt.Gen. Shuja Pasha of violating the constitution by submitting their replies to the Supreme Court without the government approval in the case over a memo sent to Washington that said President Zardari feared a military take-over following last year’s killing of Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden.
The Inter-Services Public Relations, the military’s media arm, took a serious view of Gilani’s statement and warned: “This has very serious ramifications with potentially grievous consequences for the country.”
Washington, on its part, said that Pakistan and the US were involved in talks at all levels.
Pentagon spokesperson George Little said that the US and Pakistan shared strategic ties. He added that US Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey had spoken to General Kayani.
“It’s Pakistan’s internal matter, we have got nothing to comment on,” said Little when asked about Lodhi’s sacking.
Soon after Lodhi was dismissed for “gross misconduct”, General Kayani decided to call an emergency meeting of his top commanders.
Lodhi’s dismissal came after the Pakistani Army angrily reacted to Gilani’s recent remarks to a Chinese daily that the statements of Kayani and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) chief Lt. Gen. Ahmad Shuja Pasha submitted to the Supreme Court were “unconstitutional”.
As the military and the government slugged it out, political parties made it clear that they were against any army coup.
Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chief Imran Khan Thursday said the party would not support a military coup.
The former cricketer said in Lahore that any unconstitutional way would not be tolerated.
Imran held the opposition Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) equally responsible for the current situation, Geo News reported.
Awami National Party leader Asfandyar Wali said that his party would continue to back the government and fully oppose any undemocratic move.
Democratic set-up was vital for stability in Pakistan, he said, adding: “There is no point of no-return in politics”.