In the midst of a continuing army-government stand-off, President Asif Ali Zardari today surprisingly flew to Dubai but fears of a military coup waned with the focus shifting to a crucial hearing by the Supreme Court on Monday.
Both the powerful army and the government held back their fire a day after Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani summarily sacked Defence Secretary Naeem Khalid Lodhi, a retired General backed by the army, after he appeared to have toed the line of the military in a case before the apex court.
Speculation that Gilani may act against the Army Chief Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and ISI head Lt Gen Shuja Pasha did not not come true. Kayani, who was said to be planning to summon his Corps Commanders to an emergency meeting, did not not do so.
The day's surprise development was the sudden decision of Zardari to go to Dubai on a day's visit to attend the wedding of an undisclosed family friend and to possibly undergo a medical check up. He is expected to return home tomorrow.
The Supreme Court has scheduled a hearing on Monday of a case relating to alleged corruption at high places in which Zardari figures. It has come down heavily on Gilani for not not taking action in such cases and threatened to take action against him.
Observers here were of the view that the army was reluctant to stage a coup which may incur the wrath of the Supreme Court. But the possibility that the Court may take action against Gilani, which could lead to an early poll, was being speculated widely.
Political leaders, including Gilani, were today busy attending the funeral of Pir Saheb of Pagara Syed Mardan Shah, the late spiritual and political leader, at his ancestral town in Pir Jo Goth in Sindh province.
Gilani has called an emergency session of the National Assembly to consider the situation arising out of Supreme Court's order to the government to reopen high-profile corruption cases, including against Zardari.
Matters came to a head yesterday after the military warned that Prime Minister Gilani's criticism of the army and intelligence chiefs could have "grievous consequences" and the premier sacked the Defence Secretary, considered close to the Army Chief.
Meanwhile, the media suggested that both the military and the government address their differences in an atmosphere of sanity to end the standoff bedevilling the country.
Noting that Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani's criticism of the army and ISI chiefs' actions as "unconstitutional and illegal" would have resulted in a coup 10 or 15 years ago, the influential Dawn newspaper said: "But with a raucous media and a fierce Supreme Court now in the mix, the space for a direct and unconstitutional intervention by the army appears to have been eroded."
"One week the country pulls back from the brink; the next week it is back on the brink none of it adds up to a prediction that can be made with any degree of certainty. We can only hope that better sense prevails all around," it said in its editorial titled 'Dangerous times'.
The current political crisis began when Pakistani- American businessman Mansoor Ijaz made public an alleged memo that sought US help to prevent a military coup after the killing of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan in May last year.