By Michael Peel in London and Farhan Bokhari in Islamabad
Published: August 25 2008 23:31 | Last updated: August 25 2008 23:31
Asif Ali Zardari, the leading contender for the presidency of nuclear-armed Pakistan, was suffering from severe psychiatric problems as recently as last year, according to court documents filed by his doctors.
The widower of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto was diagnosed with a range of serious illnesses including dementia, major depressive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder in a series of medical reports spanning more than two years.
Mr Zardari, the co-chair of the Pakistan People’s party, and its candidate to succeed president Pervez Musharraf, who stepped down last week, spent 11 of the past 20 years in Pakistani prisons fighting corruption allegations, during which he claims to have been tortured.
While Mr Zardari was not available to comment, Wajid Shamsul Hasan, Pakistan’s high commissioner to London, speaking on his behalf, said he was now fit and well.
News of his medical records came as Nawaz Sharif, head of the junior partner in the government, pulled his party out of the coalition, partly because of differences over Mr Zardari’s presidential candidacy.
In court documents seen by the Financial Times, Philip Saltiel, a New York City-based psychiatrist, said in a March 2007 diagnosis that Mr Zardari’s imprisonment had left him suffering from “emotional instability” and memory and concentration problems. “I do not foresee any improvement in these issues for at least a year,” Mr Saltiel wrote.
Stephen Reich, a New York state-based psychologist, said Mr Zardari was unable to remember the birthdays of his wife and children, was persistently apprehensive and had thought about suicide.
Mr Zardari used the medical diagnoses to argue successfully for the postponement of a now-defunct English High Court case in which Pakistan’s government was suing him over alleged corruption, court records show.
The case – brought to seize some of his UK assets – was dropped in March, at about the same time that corruption charges in Pakistan were dismissed. However, the court papers raise questions about Mr Zardari’s ability to help guide one of the world’s most strategically important countries following the resignation last week of Mr Musharraf, under whose rule the corruption cases against the PPP leader and his late wife, Benazir Bhutto, were pursued.
Mr Zardari and Ms Bhutto, who was murdered in December while leading the PPP in elections that gave it the most seats in Pakistan’s parliament, were also the target of corruption investigations in Switzerland and Spain. The Geneva prosecutor said on Monday that money laundering charges against Mr Zardari were being dropped.
Mr Hasan, a long-standing political ally and friend of the Zardari/Bhutto family, told the Financial Times on Monday that Mr Zardari had subsequent medical examinations and his doctors had “declared him medically fit to run for political office and free of any symptoms”.
“You have got to understand that while he was in prison on charges that were never proven, there were attempts to kill him,” Mr Hasan said. “At that time, he was surrounded by fear all the time. Any human being living in such a condition will of course suffer from the effects of continuous fear. But that is all history.
“In fact, many people were very impressed to see Mr Zardari go through the trauma of the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, but still hold himself together, hold his family, especially his children, close to him at this very difficult time.”
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2008