Cablegate: Potential Pakistani Prime Minister: Amin Faheem
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DE RUEHIL #0676/01 0460412
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O 150412Z FEB 08
FM AMEMBASSY ISLAMABAD
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 5131
INFO RUEHBUL/AMEMBASSY KABUL PRIORITY 8160
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RUEHKP/AMCONSUL KARACHI PRIORITY 8952
RUEHLH/AMCONSUL LAHORE PRIORITY 4823
RUEHPW/AMCONSUL PESHAWAR PRIORITY 3517
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S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 02 ISLAMABAD 000676
E.O. 12958: DECL: 01/04/2018
TAGS: PGOV PHUM PK PREL
SUBJECT: POTENTIAL PAKISTANI PRIME MINISTER: AMIN FAHEEM
REF: A. ISLAMABAD 549
B. ISLAMABAD 505
C. ISLAMABAD 226
D. ISLAMABAD 146
Classified By: Anne W. Patterson, Reasons 1.4 (b), (d)
1. (C) Summary: This is one of several profiles on potential Pakistani candidates for Prime Minister. The Pakistan People's Party (PPP) is embroiled in a leadership struggle; the Central Executive Committee will decide after the February 18 election who will be its choice for Prime Minister. As PPP Vice Chairman and the man chosen by Benazir as the PPP's in-country leader during her exile, Amin Makdhoom Faheem is considered the party's most likely choice.
In the most recent International Republican Institute's poll, Faheem was the candidate preferred overall to become Prime Minister.
2. (C) The other contenders include PPP Co-Chairman Asif Zardari, who floated a failed trial balloon (Ref A) on his candidature in early February. Zardari is not currently eligible to run for a National Assembly seat (a requirement to become Prime Minister) although he plans to run in an April by-election. Other PPP hopefuls include PPP Punjab President Shah Mehmood Qureshi, PPP Co-Chairman Yousef Gilani, and former Defense Minister (under Benazir Bhutto)
Aftab Mirani. End Summary.
3. (C) The eldest son of a founding member of the PPP, Amin Faheem has a strong, independent political base in Sindh province. A traditional Sindhi feudal landlord, Faheem also inherited divine Sufi status from his father and enjoys the revenues from a local Sufi shrine near his home in Hala.
Faheem shares a story of how he was personally recruited as a young man to the party by PPP founder Zulfakir Ali Bhutto during high tea in London. Local press notes that Faheem's followers affectionately call him ""he whose presence brings good harvest.""
4. (C) Faheem was deeply shaken by Benazir Bhutto's assassination. In addition to physical side-effects (poor hearing in his left ear, continuing pain in his chest and shoulder), Faheem was depressed and withdrawn for several weeks after the December 27 bombing. Despite this experience, however, he has not sought even minimal security protection. Until very recently, he was driving himself in an unarmored vehicle and had only an old night watchman guarding his home.
Likable but Weak
5. (S) Faheem is polite, mild-mannered, soft-spoken and considered pliable. Benazir kept him and all her supporters on a very short leash, so Faheem's independent leadership skills have not been well tested. He is almost universally liked; in over 30 years in and out of the parliament, few can remember Faheem making even a confrontational speech.
President Musharraf has indicated that he would prefer to work with Faheem than with Zardari. Pakistan Muslim League (PML) Secretary General Mushahid Hussain reported that Benazir told him she never fully trusted Faheem because he was ""too close"" to Musharraf. PML President Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain and Pakistan Muslim League-N leader Nawaz Sharif both speak highly of Faheem and indicate they can easily work with him in a coalition. As recently as 18 months ago, Chaudhry Shujaat offered to make Faheem's son the Chief Minister of Sindh, a deal Faheem rejected reportedly because it was designed to replace a corrupt PML official. Faheem also enjoys a friendship with Jamaat Ulema-e-Islam leader Fazlur Rehman.
6. (S) Faheem assured Senator Lieberman that he has no problem working with Chaudhry Shujaat because their fathers had served together in the Western Pakistan Assembly (Ref D).
In his last meeting with Ambassador (Ref B), Faheem went out of his way to say that Musharraf was a ""good and liberal man"" and he saw no need to seek Musharraf's impeachment in the next Assembly. Faheem was more interested in Pakistan's future than in fighting with the PML after elections.
7. (S) Faheem's relations with Asif Zardari, however, are not ideal. Their styles clash and Faheem appears embarrassed
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by reports of Zardari's corruption. Faheem cannot be pleased that Zardari first named Faheem as the party's choice for Prime Minister, only to retract the offer and float a trial balloon about his own candidacy. NSA Aziz (who also prefers Faheem to Zardari) told us (Ref C) that Zardari ordered Faheem back to Sindh after meeting with the U.S. Ambassador.
We have heard several such stories of Zardari attempting to limit Faheem's activities. There is speculation that, if selected as Prime Minister, Faheem would serve as Zardari's ""front man"" until Zardari himself could take the position.
Given his deference to the party, Faheem may agree to serve, but his working relationship with Zardari may be strained.
Faheem has maintained contact with Musharraf after Benazir's death, and there are reports that he may have contemplated a split from the party, perhaps because of the rivalry with Zardari. While Faheem has his own following, it is not clear how many PPP rank and file would follow him in any party split.
8. (C) Whether because of security concerns or an order from Zardari, Faheem told us he has no plans to campaign outside of his native Sindh. But Faheem does have national name recognition; in the latest IRI poll, he was the most popular candidate for PM across party lines.
9. (C) If elected, Faheem would continue Benazir Bhutto's domestic and foreign policy agenda. He has told us that his main priorities would be to fight terrorism, improve the economy and tackle the law and order problem. He believes that Pakistan needs a national unity government but has not specified which parties might be included.
10. (C) If proposed as Prime Minister, this would not be Faheem's first opportunity to lead Pakistan. In 2002, Musharraf offered Faheem the job, but Bhutto intervened to stop him in a complicated maneuver that include a split in PPP ranks. Reportedly, she feared development of an alternative ""non-Bhutto"" power base in the PPP. Faheem covered the maneuver by publicly refusing to sever ties with Benazir (the offer's condition), saying, ""loyalty is more important for me than the prime ministership.""
11. (C) Faheem was born on August 4, 1939 in Hala, Sindh.
He won his first National Assembly seat in 1970 and has been elected five times since. He served as a Federal Minister of Communication (1988-90) and Minister of Housing and Public Works (1994-96), during Benazir's two terms. Faheem has been defeated twice in his campaign as Pakistan president (1997 and 2007), probably because the PPP did not have a plurality at either time.
12. (U) Faheem holds a BS in Agriculture from Sindh University and reportedly studied in the UK. Faheem has two children, including a son who is active in provincial politics. Despite a secular lifestyle (his preferred alcoholic drink reportedly is a screwdriver), Faheem has four wives--two of them from traditional tribal marriages and one a former air hostess. One of his wives was a Bangladeshi and is now deceased, according to the new Bangladeshi ambassador who is really from Karachi. Despite denials by Faheem's family, Pakistani liberals accuse them of forcing Faheem's sisters to ""marry the Quran,"" to prevent division of the family's massive land holdings. Faheem describes poetry as his ""first love,"" and enjoys verses on love, peace, and simplicity. Like his father did, Faheem leads a spiritual group called ""Sarwari Jamaat"" which proclaims and promotes the peaceful spiritual and Sufi values of Islam. He speaks fluent English, Urdu and Sindhi.