Islamabad/New Delhi: Cutting short his Dubai trip, President Asif Ali Zardari on Friday returned to Pakistan as the rift between the civilian government and the powerful military widened plunging the country into a political crisis.
Confirming the development, the Pakistani media reports quoted Presidency spokesman Farhatullah Babar saying, “President had reached Pakistan after finishing his private business in Dubai."
President Zardari Zardari left the country for Dubai yesterday in what was described as a private visit by the government officials.
Early last month, Zardari had traveled to Dubai for medical treatment, triggering rumours that he was either being pushed out by the powerful Army or was fleeing a potential coup. He returned after a few weeks, but tensions have continued to soar in the country, with critics gleefully predicting the government`s imminent downfall.
Officials had earlier said his current trip was unconnected to the crisis in the country. They had said the President would attend a wedding in Dubai and would be back in Pakistan on Friday morning. No further information was divulged by them.
Prime Minister Yousuf Raja Gillani has also called a meeting of the cabinet’s defence committee for Saturday, which will be attended by the Army chief, in a possible sign of efforts to reduce friction.
A disputed memo allegedly seeking US help in reining in Pakistan’s powerful military has plunged relations with the government to their lowest point since a coup in 1999.
Shortly after Zardari left, Army chief General Ashfaq Kayani met his top commanders fuelling speculation that the generals, who set security and foreign policies, have lost patience with the government.
Senior officers discussed in detail “prevailing conditions,” highlighting fears for the economic and political stability of Pakistan, a vital but uneasy ally for the United States in its attempt to fight militancy and bring peace to neighbouring Afghanistan.
Political analysts say Kayani doesn`t want a coup because the Army is fighting Islamist militants, the country is facing economic ruin and seizing power would trigger domestic and international criticism. But they say the generals may be happy to allow a Supreme Court hostile to the government to dismiss Zardari if it can find a "constitutional" way to do so.
On Wednesday, the Prime Minister fired the Defence Secretary in a rare public display of assertiveness by the civilian government against the Army, as the fallout from the memogate scandal.
The court, regarded as an ally of the army, is investigating that affair and a second one linked to past corruption cases against the President. Both could potentially be used as a pretext to oust the current civilian leadership, which is showing no signs of bending.
The crisis is consuming the attentions of the ruling elite in a country that is struggling to overcome economic turmoil and a bloody Al Qaeda-fuelled insurgency.
The army has ruled Pakistan for much of its six-decade existence, and it still sees itself as the rightful custodian of the country`s interests. No civilian Pakistani government has ever completed its term in office.
The Zardari government, which was democratically elected in 2008, is determined to finish its term.
General elections are scheduled for next year, but could well take place sooner.