Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari left the country Thursday for a one-day private affair to Dubai, amid an escalating crisis between his civilian government and the Army, officials said.
Early last month, an unscheduled trip to Dubai for medical treatment sparked rumors that Zardari, 56, might not return, suggesting that he was either being pushed out by the army or was fleeing a potential coup, The Associated Press reported.
Relations between Pakistan's civilian government and the military have reached the lowest point since a 1999 coup; Zardari's trip follows the latest escalation when the military on Wednesday publicly rebuked Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, warning of serious ramificatinos with potentially grievous consequences, after he criticized military leaders in an interview.
Following the public dressing down, Gilani, who has taken an unusually strident tone against the military, fired his defense secretary. As a sign of easing tensions, Gilani called a meeting of the cabinet's defense committee for Saturday, the first time the civilian and military officials will meet face-to-face since the latest crisis.
According to the officials, the trip is not connected to the current crisis. They said the president would attend a wedding in Dubai and be back in Pakistan on Friday morning.
On Thursday, Gen. Ashfaq Pervez Kayani scheduled a meeting between the top commanders and the army chief, further fueling speculation that the military, fed up with Zardari, might make a move. And while most analysts say Kayani wants Zardari to go, he and the generals would prefer a dismissal from the Supreme Court in a constitutional way, rather than a coup.