Pakistan president Asif Ali Zardari on Thursday flew to Dubai for a one-day personal visit amid indications that the government could seek a vote of confidence in parliament on Friday in a bid to shore itself up ahead of the hearing of a corruption case by the supreme court on January 16.
Zardari’s trip comes at a time when there are fears that his government might fall or he might have to resign following hearings against him and prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani in Memogate and the NRO case, which involved granting amnesty to graft-tainted politicians and officials.
Sources said Zardari would be attending a wedding in Dubai and might undergo a medical check-up. According to the foreign ministry, he would return to Pakistan on Friday.
Amid speculation about the military’s next move, top army commanders met in Rawalpindi. Army officials called the meeting routine but analysts said detailed discussions about the political situation were held.
Meanwhile, Gilani addressed parliament and tried to dispel the impression that the government and the military were at loggerheads. At the same time, he told MPs that not only would his government take its coalition partners along but would expect the opposition’s support if there were challenges to democracy.
But opposition leader Nawaz Sharif said the government had no right to be in power as it was “not abiding by the decisions of the supreme court”.
Sharif, along with other parties, called for early elections.
He said his party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, would not support any extra-constitutional measures.
Relations between the Pakistan government and the military had worsened on Wednesday, with Gilani sacking defence secretary Lt Gen (retd) Khalid Naeem Lodhi – known to be close to army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani – and replacing him with bureaucrat Nargis Sethi, a civilian government loyalist.
The sacking followed an army warning of “potentially grievous consequences” over Gilani’s accusation that Kayani and ISI chief Lt General Ahmed Shuja Pasha acted against the constitution in handling of the memo scandal.
But at this point, a confrontation seemed more likely with the supreme court, which has fixed Monday for hearing of the NRO and memo cases.
Pakistani-American businessman Mansoor Ijaz, who made public the alleged memo, confirmed on Thursday that he would be coming to Pakistan by Sunday to attend the hearing and present himself for questioning.
The alleged memo had sought US help to prevent a military coup in Pakistan after the killing of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in the country in May.
Zardari’s Dubai trip on Thursday was his second in just over a month ever since the memo scandal erupted last year. He had travelled to Dubai on December 6 for nearly a fortnight for treatment of a heart condition, triggering reports that he was under pressure from the military to step down.