Islamabad, Dec 10: Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani today said President Asif Ali Zardari's health is improving while the ailing leader's physician announced that he was expected to make an “early recovery”.
Zardari was resting in a Dubai hospital on the advice of doctors, Gilani told a TV news channel. “He (President Zardari) is improving,” the premier said.
Gilani said the President, who was feeling comfortable, had talked to him on phone yesterday when former premier Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain and former Punjab Chief Minister Chaudhry Pervaiz Ilahi called on him at the Prime Minister House.
In a related development, a health bulletin issued from Dubai this evening by Zardari's personal physician said: “The President is making smooth progress and feels better. The treating doctors are confident about an early recovery.”
The bulletin did not give details about Zardari's ailment or say when the leader is likely to be discharged from hospital. When he was asked about the speculation Zardari's health, Gilani said: “Anybody can fall sick and he (Zardari) is also an average human being.”
He said he and Zardari's family had insisted that the President should go abroad for medical tests, a check-up and treatment.
Gilani cited “security reasons” as the reason for the advice given to Zardari to go abroad. He recalled that there were some security threats when Zardari's late father Hakim Ali Zardari was admitted to a hospital in Islamabad earlier this year.
The premier said he and Zardari's son Bilawal Bhutto Zardari were present at the helipad to see off the President when he left for Dubai on Tuesday.
Zardari's sudden visit to Dubai and the fact that the government has not set a date for his return has led to speculation that the unpopular leader might resign due to growing pressure on him from the powerful military.
The President has been at the centre of a storm since Pakistani-American businessman Mansoor Ijaz made public a secret memorandum sent to the US military that sought American help to stave off a possible military takeover in May.
Despite denials from officials, Islamabad continues to be abuzz with rumours and unconfirmed reports that Zardari had suffered a “minor heart attack” and facial paralysis. Gulf News daily yesterday quoted an unnamed presidential aide as saying that Zardari may not return to Pakistan for weeks.
In an effort to counter these reports *and to prove that he was not incapacitated, Zardari broke his silence yesterday and spoke on the phone to the Prime Minister and several journalists.
One senior journalist who spoke to Zardari told the Dawn newspaper that contrary to reports of his incoherence and impaired speech, the President sounded “his usual self and was in a good mood”.
“He laughed when asked about the speculation surrounding his illness,” the unnamed journalist said. The President reportedly said he went to Dubai as he did not trust hospitals in Pakistan and that he would be back “soon”. Asked if there was any chance he would resign, Zardari said he “was not the type to resign”.
Mark Siegel, a close Zardari associate who lobbies for the Pakistan government in Washington, told ABC News: “He was totally lucid, said he'll return soon, and we spoke in detail about US-Pakistan relations, the NATO crisis and other bilateral issues.”
Siegel said Zardari “could not have been more engaged or focused.”