Pakistan minister’s desperation to underplay coup rumours

A prominent Pakistani Cabinet minister was on Friday forced to dismiss rumours that a coup could overthrow the government, saying unnamed “people” would foil any attempt to dislodge the president.

Interior Minister Rehman Malik spoke to reporters outside Parliament amid a frenzy of speculation over the health of President Asif Ali Zardari, who has been in a Dubai hospital for three days with a heart condition.

Zardari faces a major scandal over what extent he may have been involved in alleged attempts by his ambassador to Washington — since forced to resign — to seek US help to limit the power of Pakistan’s powerful military.

“We understand that the people have given us a mandate for five years through elections and votes, and if someone tried to do something to the government, people would foil such attempts,” Malik said.

“The situation is not as complex as you are viewing it,” he said in response to a journalist who said the crisis facing the government was serious.

Transition of power
Zardari took office after the centre-left Pakistan People’s Party won general elections in February 2008.

If he remains in office until his mandate ends and polls are held it would be the first democratic transition of power in Pakistan where the military has staged four coups and ruled for more than half the country’s existence.

An article published on the website of the US magazine Foreign Policy sparked fevered speculation on Wednesday that Zardari was on his way out, forcing both Pakistan’s presidency and the US state department to dismiss the rumours.

Pakistan is in the midst of perhaps its worst crisis in US relations after Nato air strikes killed 24 Pakistani soldiers on November 26.

Zardari was on Thursday moved out of intensive care at Dubai’s American Hospital, officials said.

One member of the cabinet said he had suffered a minor heart attack. There was no immediate confirmation from aides on Friday of local press reports that he had suffered a minor stroke. — AFP

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