Cablegate: Pakistan Elections-February 18; Investigation Update
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TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 4154
INFO RUEHBUL/AMEMBASSY KABUL PRIORITY 7980
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C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 ISLAMABAD 000009
E.O. 12958: DECL: 01/02/2018
TAGS: PREL PGOV PHUM PTER PINR ASEC PK
SUBJECT: PAKISTAN ELECTIONS-FEBRUARY 18; INVESTIGATION UPDATE
REF: A. ISLAMABAD 0001 B. 07 ISLAMABAD 5395
Classified By: Anne W. Patterson, for reasons 1.4 (b)(d)
1. (C) Summary. The Election Commissioner announced today that elections will be postponed until February 18. It is not yet clear how the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) will react. We expect President Musharraf in a nationally televised address tonight at 2000 local to announce the GOP is accepting the assistance of Scotland Yard in supporting the GOP investigation of Benazir Bhutto's assassination. Post has obtained from the Ministry of Interior tapes and records related to the Bhutto assassination and has forwarded them to appropriate agencies for analysis. Nawaz Sharif has requested USG advice on security issues. End Summary.
2. (C) Chief Election Commissioner Farooq announced at press conference January 2 that the elections will be delayed until February 18 (see reftels for background). Farooq cited reports from his regional offices that the damages to Commission offices and documents would logistically prevent the Commission from holding elections on January 8. Farooq indicated that the selection of the new date concurs with the decision not to hold elections during the Muslim month of Muharram. (Note: Sectarian violence typically occurs in Pakistan during Muharram.)
3. (C) Earlier in the day, Ambassador and DCM met January 2 with NSA Tariq Aziz to press the GOP to move up the date for Pakistan's election. Aziz said that ISI Director General Nadeem Taj had met January 1 with Pakistan People's Party (PPP) leaders Co-Chairman Asif Zardari, Rehman Malik and Senator Safdar Abbasi; the meeting was cordial and Taj came away encouraged that Zardari would not vigorously object to postponing the date for elections. Aziz has also spoken with PPP candidate for Prime Minister Amin Faheem, who met with President Musharraf December 31. Aziz reported that Amin appeared reasonable and ready to work on a solution for deciding a date for elections. Aziz said the government was looking at a date between February 15-20, probably February 18.
4. (C) Zardari spoke to Ambassador on January 2 and continued to insist that the PPP wanted elections on January 8 and said Faheem supported this. She stressed the need for a decision as quickly as possible and urged Zardari to discourage any violent street reaction to a delay. He said the PPP was not going to engage in violence as it would dishonor his wife's memory. Publicly, however, the PPP is saying it will "resist" if the government tries to postpone elections.
4. (C) Separately, the UK High Commissioner Brinkley told Ambassador January 2 that he met with Tariq Aziz and heard essentially the same message--the GOP will postpone elections until mid-February but Aziz had advised the Election Commission to hold off on announcing a new date until after the PPP Central Executive Committee finished its meeting today (it met beginning at 1600 local). Brinkley, too, spoke to Zardari and was told that the PPP would "protest but not demonstrate" against the delay.
5. (C) Complicating the PPP decision-making are growing indications of a leadership struggle. Aziz told Ambassador he had heard that Zardari was upset that Faheem had met with Musharraf "without my permission." Zardari indicated to Ambassador earlier that Faheem "does not speak for me." Post's sources in the PPP say that staffers increasingly are split over whether to support Faheem or Zardari, and the backbiting has begun in earnest.
6. (C) Brinkley told Ambassador that Musharraf had called UK PM Gordon Brown on December 31 to accept the UK's offer of assistance from Scotland Yard. Minutes after the call, Musharraf's military secretary called back to ask that the UK not make this news public until Musharraf himself had
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announced it. Brinkley had given Aziz today a proposed formulation of an announcement, which has Scotland Yard providing technical expertise to "assist" the GOP's own investigation. Brinkley said the UK wanted to make it clear to the PPP that the UK experts would not be used to provide a countervailing explanation to that of the GOP. The UK has not yet worked out the modalities of how the UK experts will report their findings; there is no date yet for the arrival of the Scotland Yard team.
7. (C) Brinkley said Aziz reported that Musharraf would make the announcement about the investigation tonight when he addresses Pakistan at 2000 local time.
8. (C) In a related development, RSO obtained from the Ministry of Interior pictures of the Bhutto vehicle taken after the attack, a copy of the oral tape of the alleged conversation where Baitullah Mehsud brags of killing Bhutto, and a copy of the medical reports on Bhutto's death. These have been provided to appropriate agencies (which are analyzing them) and the FBI.
Nawaz Requests Security Advice
9. (C) Nawaz Sharif's office contacted CG Lahore January 2 to request consultations on security for Nawaz and Shahbaz Sharif. They did not request USG assistance in providing security but wanted to discuss with our RSO what equipment and technical experts they should employ. Ambassador will send Embassy RSO to Lahore January 3 to provide Nawaz's security team with our advice. This follows earlier indications that the Sharifs were increasingly concerned about their own security in the wake of Bhutto's assassination.
10. (C) Comment: The good news is that we have a date certain for elections. However, the GOP did not wait for the PPP to publicly agree to this new date. It is unclear what a PPP decision to "resist" or "protest" actually means, but any negative reaction will be felt in Sindh more than anywhere else. Since Zardari himself called for UK support for an investigation, it will be hard for the PPP to object to Scotland Yard's assistance, but the fact that the UK is not providing a separate "independent" investigation will allow the PPP to continue to call for a Hariri-style UN investigation.