Islamabad Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari suffered a "mini-stroke" that led to his ongoing hospitalization in Dubai, a close associate of the leader said Tuesday.
Zardari's trip to Dubai last week has led to speculation — denied by the government — that he is losing his grip on power.
The associate said Zardari, 56, will stay under observation in the Gulf sheikdom for around two weeks before returning. He said there was no question that Zardari was too ill to return to office, echoing what other officials have said in recent days.
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.
The associate, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the matter, said that Zardari's diagnosis had been made by the president's two physicians.
Also Tuesday, 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 subsequent stroke.
Earlier, officials had said that Zardari's trip was for routine medical tests. They then said he was having treatment related to a heart condition. The lack of information, and its sometimes contradictory nature, fueled the speculation.
Questions about the president's future come as Pakistan is navigating a rough patch in relations with its most important ally, the United States, following NATO airstrikes last month that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers. The government called more than a dozen of its envoys back to Islamabad amid the crisis for a two day meeting.
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.