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By DeClan Walsh | Guardian | Jan. 27, 2010
Swamped by court challenges and under pressure from a hostile army, Pakistan's president, Asif Ali Zardari, has found solace in an unusual form – the ritual slaughter of goats.
Zardari has a black goat killed every day at his Islamabad house to ward off "evil eyes" and protect himself against "black magic", according to a report in Dawn, Pakistan's paper of record.
Spokesman Farhatullah Babar confirmed the president practises sadiqa, or the sacrifice of an animal whose meat is distributed among the poor. "I have seen it been done. Not exactly every day, but quite often, yes," he told the Guardian.
But he denied its purpose was to fend off malevolent spirits. "The main belief is that this practice invokes the pleasure of God. The corollary is that bad things will not happen, of course, but that's a matter of interpretation," he said.
He added that Zardari's wife, Benazir Bhutto, performed sadiqa regularly after returning to Pakistan in late 2007, a few months before she was killed in a suicide attack.
The goat revelations provide fresh meat for Zardari's many enemies. With sections of the media and military openly arrayed against him, the president's popularity ratings have plunged to the low teens.
Last week, long-standing corruption allegations resurfaced in the supreme court, where rivals appear to be preparing a legal attempt to oust him from office.
As Zardari's woes multiplied, detractors have portrayed him as a lonely and paranoid figure, fearful of leaving the heavily-secured presidency.
But in recent weeks the president has come out swinging, addressing rallies in Sindh and Punjab provinces where he accused unnamed "hidden forces" of conspiring against him – code for the army.
The legal attempt, led by the powerful chief justice, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, has also drawn controversy, with some of the country's most prominent lawyers expressing reservations about the anti-Zardari drive.
Zardari, who came to power in September 2007, is struggling to shake off his association with corruption and his nickname "Mister 10%". Aides say he is the victim of a concerted slur campaign.
Reports that Zardari keeps a camel on the grounds of the presidency in order to drink its milk for reasons of superstition are "absolutely false" said his spokesman.
"If that was true we would have stories that the camel cost half a million pounds, is being treated as a VIP, and that the president had a conversation with Gordon Brown about the quality of camels," he said.