From Byword- India Today (December 23)
Dear Doctor Dubai:
You are a very busy man, Doc, as anyone who commands the sole confidence of the President of Pakistan must surely be, so I hesitate to waste your time over a niggle. But this niggle just won't go away. On December 6, President Asif Ali Zardari unexpectedly left his country ostensibly in search of your care in Dubai. Zardari returned to Pakistan on December 19 amid intense speculation that he would disappear again, this time for a more generous absence. It seems, therefore, that the fate of a nation hangs on a niggle.
Doc, all you have told us is that Zardari had "stroke-like symptoms". This carefully mysterious formulation has left us a trifle confused and a bit thirsty for more information. Every stroke may have stroke-like symptoms, but every symptom does not, it seems, owe its origin to a stroke.
So, Doc, was it a stroke or not a stroke? If it was a stroke, where did it strike? If it was merely "stroke-like" then you could perhaps let us know what it was like.
Please don't take this personally, Doc. But was there anything specific in those "symptoms" that required treatment in Dubai and only from your capable hands and doubtless brilliant mind? Are there no doctors in Islamabad, or Lahore, or Karachi, capable of dealing with dislikeable symptoms? One asks because nasty wags in Pakistan and despicable rumour-mongers in India are thoughtlessly spreading the idea that the President of Pakistan does not trust any hospital in Pakistan, and is terrified of being poisoned or some such. This cannot be true, of course, for if a President cannot trust his own people then he has no right to continue in office. But loathsome western journalists have even reported that Zardari was "recuperating at his home in Dubai" after, apparently, you sorted out those malicious symptoms. If Islamabad isn't safe even for some much-needed recuperation by its President, then you are up a creek without a paddle, isn't it?
Your medical knowledge is vast, Doc, so perhaps you could enlighten us on this one, without, I hope, violating the Hippocratic oath. Is it possible for a President to get a stroke from a memorandum?
I am referring of course to the memo passed on to the Pentagon by a Pakistani-American businessman Mansoor Ijaz, allegedly on behalf of Zardari's ambassador to Washington Hussain Haqqani, begging American generals to avert a possible coup in Islamabad. Haqqani, predictably, denied authorship but the memo was so toxic that Haqqani has disappeared into a coma. His resignation on November 22 did nothing to impede the rampaging infection of the memo. Haqqani is not a diplomat, by profession or temperament; he was and is star yes-man in the Zardari court. His appointment to Washington was a graceand-favour gift from Zardari. Add two and two and you get the contemporary Pakistan crisis.
Zardari ran but could not hide. His government fired shots in the air, insisting that Parliament, press, and its friends in Lahore and across the world would never tolerate another coup. General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani was not particularly impressed by bluster. Instead, the army chief showed that his grasp of politics and the comparative power of his country's institutions was more astute than civilians had bargained for. The army petitioned the Supreme Court to investigate the origins of memo which "unsuccessfully attempted to lower the morale of the Pakistan Army". Very smart: the memo was a failure, but its intentions were treasonable. If the Supreme Court after due process can find someone higher up the civilian command chain guilty, then Zardari is pincered. This would, in effect, become the most legitimate coup in Pakistan's history. Kayani could recover his own, and the army's, prestige by refusing to occupy the consequent vacant space, and letting a general election find the next president and prime minister.
Zardari recognises a crossroads by instinct. On the night of Friday the 16th, Kayani had a threehour meeting with Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, an unusually long chat for peacetime palavers. Within 48 hours Zardari was back to his residence in Pakistan from his home in Dubai. Never imagine that a scapegoat cannot hear the sound of sharpening knives; indeed, the fever of his imagination raises decibels. When a military-political commentator like Lt Gen Talat Masood (retired) states deadpan that civilian and military leaderships are on a collision course, Zardari doesn't need any advice on who will be in the middle of that collision. At the age of 56, a hospital bed in Dubai, with recuperation facilities nearby, must be immensely preferable to years in a damp Attock prison, even if it is on the banks of a brisk Indus within breathtaking view of the Himalayas.
So you see, Doc, how vital those "stroke-like symptoms" are? Do reply when you find a minute.