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President Zardari suddenly leaves Pakistan — is he on the way out?

President Zardari suddenly leaves Pakistan — is he on the way out?

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari left Pakistan suddenly on Tuesday, complaining of heart pains, and is now in Dubai. His planned testimony before a joint session of Pakistan’s parliament on the Memogate scandal is now postponed indefinitely.

On Dec. 4, Zardari announced that he would address Pakistan’s parliament about the Memogate issue, in which his former ambassador to Washington Husain Haqqani stands accused of orchestrating a scheme to take power away from Pakistan’s senior military and intelligence leadership and asking for U.S. help in preventing a military coup. Haqqani has denied that he wrote the memo at the heart of the scheme, which also asked for U.S. support for the Zardari government and promised to realign Pakistani foreign policy to match U.S. interests.

The memo was passed from Pakistani-American businessman Mansoor Ijaz to former National Security Advisor Jim Jones, to then Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen on May 10, only nine days after U.S. forces killed Osama bin Laden in the Pakistani military town of Abbottabad.

Ijaz has repeatedly accused Haqqani of being behind the memo, and Ijaz claims that Haqqani was working with Zardari’s implicit support.

Early on Tuesday morning, Zardari’s spokesman revealed that the president had traveled to Dubai to see his children and undergo medical tests linked to a previously diagnosed "cardiovascular condition."

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."

"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.

In Islamabad, some papers have reported that before Zardari left Pakistan, the Pakistani Army insisted that Zardari be examined by their own physicians, and that the Army doctors determined that Zardari was fine and did not need to leave the country for medical reasons. Zardari’s spokesman has denied that he met with the Army doctors.

One Pakistani source told The Cable that Zardari was informed on Monday that none of the opposition party members nor any of the service chiefs would attend his remarks to the parliament as a protest against his continued tenure. This source also said that over a dozen of Zardari’s ambassadors in foreign countries were in the process of being recalled in what might be a precursor to Zardari stepping down as president, taking many of his cronies with him.

Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper reported that before leaving, Zardari met separately with Gilani, Chairman of the Senate Farooq H Naik, and Interior Minister Rehman Malik.

This past weekend, the Memogate scandal worsened for Zardari when Ijaz alleged in a Newsweek opinion piece that Zardari and Haqqani had prior knowledge of the U.S. raid to kill bin Laden, and may have given permission for the United States to violate Pakistan’s airspace to conduct the raid.

On May 2, the day after bin Laden was killed, Wajid Hasan, Pakistan’s high commissioner to the United Kingdom, said in an interview with CNN that Pakistan, "did know that this was going to happen because we have been keeping — we were monitoring him and America was monitoring him. But Americans got to where he was first."

In a statement given to the Associated Press of Pakistan Monday, White House spokesperson Caitlin Hayden said that information on the actual operation to kill bin Laden was not given to anyone in Pakistan.

"As we’ve said repeatedly, given the sensitivity of the operation, to protect our operators we did not inform the Pakistani government, or any other government, in advance," she said.

Zardari lived in self-imposed exile in Dubai from 2004 through 2007 after being released from prison, where he had been held for eight years on corruption charges. His three children live there, but his 23-year son Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the chairman of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), is in Pakistan now.

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.