ISLAMABAD — Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari suffered a "mini-stroke" that led to his extended hospitalization in Dubai, but he is improving quickly and will return to his country within two weeks, a close associate and a government spokesman said Tuesday.
Zardari's health has been the subject of speculation and contradictory statements by government officials since he was rushed to Dubai last week. His trip triggered rumors he could be on the verge of resigning. Officials deny that.
The president's absence coincided with domestic political attacks against him over a memo delivered to U.S. officials asking Washington's help in reining in Pakistan's powerful military. It came also during a spike in tensions between Washington and Islamabad after NATO airstrikes killed 24 Pakistani soldiers on the Afghan border.
The associate, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the matter, said that Zardari's diagnosis of a "mini-stroke" was made by the president's two physicians.
A "mini-stroke" is medically known as a transient ischemic attack, or TIA. It occurs when the blood supply to part of the brain is briefly interrupted, causing symptoms similar to a stroke but not as long-lasting, because with a TIA, the blood supply is restored.
Zardari, 56, will stay under observation in the Gulf sheikdom for around two weeks before returning, said the associate, denying that Zardari was too ill to return to office.
Pakistani Information Minister Firdous Ashiq Awan told reporters in Islamabad that Zardari was "improving very quickly," citing the president's physicians.
TIAs are often warning signs that a person is at risk for a more serious and debilitating stroke. About one-third of those who have a TIA will have an acute stroke some time in the future, according to the website of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.
The condition requires urgent medical attention. Drug therapy or surgery may be recommended to reduce the risk of a subsequent stroke.
No information was released about the type of treatment Zadari was receiving.
As word spread about Zardari's trip, officials said that Zardari had left for routine medical tests and to visit his children. They then said he was having treatment related to a heart condition. Some officials were quoted as saying he had suffered a heart attack.
Pakistan is navigating a rough patch in relations with its most important ally, the United States, following the NATO airstrikes last month. The government, which has blocked NATO and US supplies to Afghanistan in retaliation for the raid, called more than a dozen of its envoys back to Islamabad for a two-day meeting over the crisis.
The attack has pushed the already strained U.S.-Pakistani relationship close to the breaking point, imperiling Washington's efforts to get Islamabad to cooperate on the Afghan war. Turmoil surrounding the Pakistani president would further complicate matters.
"The region is passing through a difficult phase," Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani told the diplomats at the close of the meeting. "At this particular point in time, it is imperative that all efforts should be directed to promoting stability and peace in Afghanistan."
Pakistan characterized the errant airstrike as a deliberate act of aggression and refused to take part in a U.S investigation into it. American officials have described it as a tragic mistake but have declined to apologize until the probe is complete.
Gilani, in perhaps a slight softening of tone, said he expected that the American investigation "will come out clearly with the facts and provide answers to the disturbing questions that our investigation has raised."