Cablegate: “The Best Thing That Could Happen in Pakistan”
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FM AMEMBASSY ISLAMABAD
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 4810
INFO RUEHBUL/AMEMBASSY KABUL PRIORITY 8106
RUEHLO/AMEMBASSY LONDON PRIORITY 7164
RUEHNE/AMEMBASSY NEW DELHI PRIORITY 2738
RUEHKP/AMCONSUL KARACHI PRIORITY 8819
RUEHLH/AMCONSUL LAHORE PRIORITY 4720
RUEHPW/AMCONSUL PESHAWAR PRIORITY 3409
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RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC PRIORITY
Friday, 01 February 2008, 13:41
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 ISLAMABAD 000483
EO 12958 DECL: 02/01/2018
TAGS PREL, PGOV, PK
SUBJECT: “THE BEST THING THAT COULD HAPPEN IN PAKISTAN”
REF: LAHORE 25 07 ISLAMABAD 5138
Classified By: Anne W. Patterson, for reasons 1.4 (b)(d)
1. (C) Summary. During a meeting with Ambassador January 31, Nawaz Sharif confirmed he was ready to work with the Pakistan People’s Party in a post-election coalition government and described this union as “the best thing that could happen in Pakistan.” He dismissed reports of threats against his life as attempts by the government to dissuade him from campaigning. Noting that emotions remain high in Sindh, he predicted violence if the election was seen as being rigged for Musharraf’s party. As proof of his pro-Americanism, Nawaz reminded Ambassador that he had overruled his Chief of Staff to deploy Pakistani forces with the U.S. coalition in the first Gulf War. Nawaz remained firm in his belief that all of the deposed judiciary must be reinstated. End Summary.
2. (C) Ambassador and Polcouns met former Prime Minister and Pakistan Muslim League-N PML-N) leader Nawaz Sharif January 31 for an hour during Nawaz’s recent visit to Islamabad. PML-N leader Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan also attended the meeting. Nawaz met with EU ambassadors the same day and urged them to take preemptive action to prevent rigging in the upcoming election.
3. (C) Ambassador noted the reports about threats to Nawaz’s security and said we were pleased to have briefed his staff on measures that could be taken to enhance his safety. Nawaz responded that the GOP has said he is “number one on the hit list” of the militants, but he is not convinced. Citing the belief that an IED planted on the road he was to travel to a rally in Peshawar lacked a detonator, Nawaz insisted he had received information from credible sources that the device was planted by security services to go off hours after the rally. This was another attempt at government intimidation to convince him not to campaign. Ambassador cautioned him to remain vigilant as it was clear that militant extremists wanted to disrupt the election.
PML-N/PPP: “the best thing that could happen”
4. (C) In response to Ambassador’s question about whether PML-N could work with the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) in a possible coalition government, Nawaz recounted how he had immediately gone to the hospital when he heard Benazir Bhutto had been shot, and he had made a special effort to pay a condolence call on Asif Zardari in Larcana. Ambassador said that Zardari had noted his appreciation for this gesture of support. A PML-N/PPP alliance would be “the best thing that could happen to Pakistan,” if it materialized, said Nawaz. The PML-N had reached out to the PPP, and time would tell what alliances could be built. They could also work together in the provincial government of Sindh or Punjab. He predicted that the PPP could win enough seats to rule in Sindh with or without the Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM).
5. (C) Nawaz expected both PPP and PML-N would do well at the polls if the elections were free and fair; he dismissed the Pakistan Muslim League party, saying that Pervaiz Elahi would get few, if any votes. Claiming he had no vendetta against President Musharraf, Nawaz said the PML-N had also reached out to the Pakistan Muslim League and they in turn had contacted PML-N (Ref A). (Note: He then launched into a long description of his mistreatment after Musharraf overthrew Nawaz in 1999). The PML-N’s goal in government would be to reinstate the deposed judiciary and restore the law and order situation. Without restoring the judiciary, Nawaz argued, you cannot restore law and order and rule of law.
6. (C) Ambassador said we continued to support an independent judiciary and wanted to work with the new government on this issue. It was simply too difficult to tackle before elections. We believed there should be a way to restore some of the deposed judges, but not the former Chief Justice. Nawaz insisted that without restoring the Chief Justice, there was no point to filling other slots on the bench. Ambassador disagreed, noting that many of the provincial judges could be restored for the benefit of Pakistan’s judiciary.
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7. (C) Despite the decreased level of campaigning due to security concerns, Nawaz and Khan both said that voter emotions were higher than they have ever seen. Sindh, in particular, remains very tense, and could erupt if the election outcome is perceived as being rigged. Nawaz noted that civil society and student groups were politicized in ways they have not been before. The PML-N did not want violence, but it might be impossible to control the people if they felt they had been wronged. Nawaz expressed concern that extremists could take advantage of and exacerbate tensions. He warned that what he described as negatively-preceived U.S. support for Musharraf could create a backlash of anti-Americanism, if the public perceives that the government rigged the elections. “We could be sitting on a volcano, and the next four-five weeks will be critical for the region and for Pak-American relations.”
8. (C) The best thing America has done recently, said Nawaz, was arrange to have General Kayani named as Chief of Army Staff. This appointment is helping Army morale and raising the level of public respect for the Army. Noting that Musharraf met the UK equivalent to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Khan said the U.S. and the UK need to stop treating Musharraf as if he still ran the military. CENTCOM Commander Admiral Fallon would have met with Musharaf if the President had not been travelling, asserted Khan. Ambassador replied that we had excellent relations with the Pakistani military and meet them all the time at various levels.
We are Pro-American
9. (C) Nawaz and Khan both repeatedly said that the PML-N was pro-American. Nawaz recounted his decision to override his Chief of Army Staff and deploy Pakistani troops to Saudi Arabia in support of the U.S. coalition in the first Gulf War. Meanwhile, Khan noted, the PPP and its leaders were organizing street demonstrations against Pakistan joining with the U.S. coalition. Now, Nawaz said, he was hurt that the U.S. did not remember. Nawaz said he understood that 9/11 had changed things, but urged that the U.S. apply some balance to the relationship. In the past, the U.S. was known as the power that rejected dictatorships, that fought for independence of the judiciary and the rule of law. Why, he asked, did we continue to support a man who fired the Supreme Court, abrogated the constitution, and arrested civil society activists?
10. (C) Comment: The fact that a former Prime Minister believes the U.S. could control the appointment of Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff speaks volumes about the myth of American influence here. Based on our understanding of the current situation, we believe Nawaz can and should take the threats to his life seriously. It comes as no surprise that Nawaz exaggerated his party’s election prospects; his willingness to deal with the PPP is, however, a good sign he is ready to cooperate on government formation.