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Rumors of Mental Health Issues Dog Pakistan's New President

Zardari suffered from depression and dementia, U.K. newspaper reports.

ByABC News
September 9, 2008, 3:39 PM

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, Sept. 9, 2008 — -- Asif Ali Zardari completed a meteoric rise from polo-loving playboy to president of Pakistan today, promising not to cede "one inch" to insurgents who live along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

Zardari, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto's widower, takes power though he is still dogged by a reputation that gave him the nickname "Mr. Ten Percent" for allegedly skimming off the top of every deal made when his wife was in power.

He spent 11 years in prison on corruption and murder charges, although he was never convicted of anything. He has said he was tortured in prison, suffering trauma that led two psychologists to write that he had "emotional instability," including post-traumatic stress, depression and dementia, according to the Financial Times.

His supporters here insist that he is perfectly healthy now, pointing out that since February he has engineered former President Pervez Musharraf's resignation, pushed a political rival out of a coalition and won a presidential election in a landslide.

"My presidency will be a humble one," he said during his first news conference as president, attended by more than 200 reporters and about 75 cameras.

Chief among Zardari's concerns will be an economy veering toward default and a militancy that has never been stronger.

Sitting next to Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Zardari declined to criticize the United States for recent attacks on Pakistani soil and insisted he was the right man to fight the Taliban.

Musharraf became unpopular here in part because he was seen as fighting an American war, and analysts say if Zardari is going to succeed at confronting the militancy, he will have to convince the public that he is fighting on behalf of Pakistan, not the United States.

"Yesterday's war may have not had the people behind it, but today's war does have the people of Pakistan -- in fact, it has the president of Pakistan, who himself is a victim of terrorism," Zardari said.

Reflecting Pakistani opinion polls that suggest most residents here believe peace deals with the militants would end suicide attacks, Zardari described his strategy against the Taliban as a mostly defensive one.