Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari left for Dubai on a scheduled one-day trip on Thursday, a member of the ruling party and sources said, amid growing tension over a memo seeking U.S. help in preventing a coup by Pakistan's powerful military.
The tension has raised fears for the stability of Pakistan, a vital but uneasy ally for the United States in its attempt to fight militancy and bring peace to neighbouring Afghanistan.
The unpopular president's trip comes as relations between Pakistan's civilian government and the military reached their lowest point since a coup in 1999.
Gulf-based Pakistani sources said Zardari would make the trip for a medical check-up. This trip will be for a follow-up medical check-up and then he'll be returning right away, an associate of Zardari said.
However, a senior member of the ruling Pakistan People's Party (PPP) said Zardari had left Pakistan to attend a wedding in Dubai. No official confirmation of either story was available immediately.
Zardari went to Dubai for medical treatment last month, triggering speculation that a military take-over in the nuclear-armed South Asian nation was imminent. He returned home a couple of weeks later.
Tension has risen between the civilian government and the military, which has ruled Pakistan for more than half its 64-year history, since a memo emerged last October purportedly seeking U.S. help to stave off a military coup.
The powerful military warned on Wednesday of grievous consequences over reported comments by Prime Minister Yusu Raza Gilani accusing the military of acting unconstitutionally amid the memogate scandal.
Deepening the crisis, Gilani later sacked the country's top military bureaucrat for unspecified gross misconduct and illegal action.
A senior member of the PPP also warned on Wednesday that both sides appeared to be digging in their heels, although others have played down talk of an imminent showdown.
The military drew rare public criticism after al Qaeda head Osama bin Laden was killed in a unilateral cross-border raid by U.S. special forces troops in a garrison town not far from the Pakistani capital last May.
The memo scandal emerged several months later when a Pakistani-born businessman wrote in a column in the Financial Times about the existence of a memo seeking help from the Pentagon to rein in the military.
Businessman Mansoor Ijaz said a Pakistani diplomat had asked for the memo to be delivered to the Pentagon. He later identified the diplomat as Husain Haqqani, a Zardari ally who was then Pakistan's ambassador in Washington.
Haqqaini has denied the allegation but has since resigned in a bid to end the scandal, which has resulted in a judicial commission in Pakistan's Supreme Court.
Zardari could face impeachment proceedings if that commission finds a link between him and the memo.
(Additional reporting by Chris Allbritton and Michael Georgy in ISLAMABAD; Writing by Paul Tait; Editing by Jonathan Thatcher)