ISLAMABAD (AP) — Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari left for Dubai Thursday on a private visit, officials said, leaving behind a widening rift between the powerful armed forces and the civilian government.
Early last month, Zardari went to Dubai for medical treatment, and it triggered speculation the leader was pushed out by the army or was fleeing a potential coup.
The officials said that the president would attend a wedding in Dubai and would be back in Pakistan on Friday morning, in a trip unconnected to the current crisis. They didn't give their names because they were not authorized to release the information.
As Zardari left, Pakistan's military chief was meeting top commanders, media reports and a military officer said, fueling speculation about the army's next move.
While most analysts say army chief Gen. Ashfaq Pervez Kayani has little appetite for a coup, they say the generals may be happy to allow the Supreme Court to dismiss the government by "constitutional means."
On Wednesday, the prime minister fired the defense secretary and the military issued an unusual statement warning of "grievous consequences", as the fallout from a scandal centered on a memo written to Washington asking for its help in reining in the generals widened.
The Supreme Court, seen as hostile to President Asif Ali Zardari and 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.
Pakistan's army has ruled the country for much of its six-decade existence, and still sees itself as the rightful custodian of the country's interests. No civilian government has ever completed its term in office.
The Zardari government, which was democratically elected in 2008, is determined to see out its term.
General elections are scheduled for next year, but could well take place sooner.
The government has been widely criticized for ineptness, poor or ineffectual governance, and alleged corruption.
Still, domestic and international proponents of democracy say it should be able to complete its term, and elections should decide the country's next leaders. They note successive military coups in Pakistan are a main cause of the country's current malaise.