A hand on a nuclear button. Pakistan is a nuclear power. The president is the country’s commander in chief who can give the order to use those weapons. Asif Ali Zardari is the leading contender to become Pakistan’s next president. Last year Mr Zardari was diagnosed in New York with a range of serious illnesses including dementia, major depressive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder.

In court documents seen by The Financial Times of which extracts are published today, 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.

The prospect of Mr Zardari becoming President of Pakistan to succeed General Pervez Musharraf, who stepped down last week, is one of the reasons that Nawaz Sharif, head of the junior partner in the government, has just pulled his party out of the governing coalition.

While Mr Zardari was not available to comment to The Financial Times, Wajid Shamsul Hasan, Pakistan’s high commissioner to London, speaking on his behalf, said he was now fit and well. Mr Hasan, a long-standing political ally and friend of the Zardari/Bhutto family, said 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 [his wife] Benazir Bhutto, but still hold himself together, hold his family, especially his children, close to him at this very difficult time.”

A delightful attack. Prime Minister Kevin Rudd will surely not be able to contain his glee at the news that some in the trade union movement are about to start attacking his government in television advertisements. A little bit of standing up to the unions does not go amiss for a Labor Parliamentary leader. An ACTU advertising campaign might have helped Kevin 07 win but the fate of Kevin 10 (or perhaps Kevin 09 if the Senate really does get nasty) will be determined by his government’s record,

Tough markers at The Courier Mail. They are a tough lot running The Courier Mail. This morning before our Olympic competitors arrived home to run the gauntlet of being kissed by politicians, the QConfidential section led with a bitchy little piece of tall poppy cutting. Before referring readers to a photo gallery with 68 separate shots of the swimmer, it described the gold medal winner as being “over exposed”!

After the plane landed there were a few second thoughts. The golden girl was big and prominent with our boy Kevin and there was a video to go with it. The over exposure was relegated to secondary status but I am pleased to report that the 68 pictures remain.

A little tact night help. East Timorese Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao has learned the hard way that behind that smiling, somewhat boyish exterior, Kevin Rudd is not a man to try and bully. Before arriving in Canberra Mr Gusmao said he would “request” and even “insist” that Mr Rudd agree to a guest worker scheme for East Timor when he met with Mr Rudd. When the time came the East Timorese leader got exactly nothing but a little lecture to suggest that if he is more civil next time then something might be possible.

Peter Fray

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