Asif Ali Zardari, the president of Pakistan, was being treated in Dubai yesterday after a suspected heart attack as officials tried to head off fears of deepening political instability and dispel rumours of a "soft coup".
Mr Zardari (56) was in a stable condition, according to a spokesman, amid claims that he was about to step down.
The suggestions came from an unnamed former US official, who said parts of the US government had been informed that Mr Zardari could resign on account of ill health after a "minor heart attack" on Monday night.
Mr Zardari was "incoherent" during a phone conversation with US President Barack Obama at the weekend, the US source told 'Foreign Policy' magazine.
Mr Zardari has been under intense pressure since Husain Haqqani, his ambassador to Washington, resigned last month over a memo that sought help to replace senior military figures. Opposition figures claim that Mr Zardari was behind a plot to wrest control away from the military establishment.
Analysts believe his ill health could be a smokescreen to make him stand aside in favour of a new man viewed more favourably by the generals.
Mr Zardari's son and heir apparent, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, also met the prime minister, Yousaf Raza Gillani, heightening feelings that a transition was under way.
Mustafa Khokhar, a presidential adviser on human rights, said of Mr Zardari: "He had a minor heart attack. He flew to Dubai where he had an angioplasty.
"He's in good health now. He will come back tomorrow. There's no question of any resignation."
Pakistan is in the hands of Farooq Naek, the senate chairman, who defended Mr Zardari and his late wife, Benazir Bhutto, in a series of corruption cases.
If Mr Zardari suffers a lengthy illness, presidential elections could be called, which would bring in a longer period of political instability and threaten Pakistan's recent gains against militants along its border with Afghanistan.
Hasan Askari Rizvi, a political analyst, said it was unlikely that Mr Zardari would be able to go straight back to work. "It just shows that politics here is in a lot of turbulence and a lot of chaos," he said.
The sense of crisis was not helped by a series of conflicting statements. At first aides claimed that the president would return today, but later said he would stay in Dubai for observation.
Mr Zardari took power just over three years ago, after being elected on a wave of sympathy following the assassination of his wife in 2007. Should he hang on until elections due within the next 18 months, he will have overseen Pakistan's first democratic transfer of power.
Mr Zardari had a heart attack six years ago and continues to suffer from high blood pressure, partly the result of eight years in prison on corruption charges.
A statement by his office said Mr Zardari flew to Dubai at the insistence of his children, after complaining of symptoms that may be related to a long-standing heart condition.
"The president will remain under observation and return to resume his normal functions as advised by the doctors," the statement said. (© Daily Telegraph, London)