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Cablegate: Potential Pakistani Prime Minister Shah Mehmood

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FM AMEMBASSY ISLAMABAD
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 5449
INFO RUEHBUL/AMEMBASSY KABUL PRIORITY 8250
RUEHLO/AMEMBASSY LONDON PRIORITY 7390
RUEHNE/AMEMBASSY NEW DELHI PRIORITY 2913
RUEHKP/AMCONSUL KARACHI PRIORITY 9124
RUEHLH/AMCONSUL LAHORE PRIORITY 4973
RUEHPW/AMCONSUL PESHAWAR PRIORITY 3660
RUMICEA/USCENTCOM INTEL CEN MACDILL AFB FL PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RHMFISS/CDR USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL PRIORITY
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC PRIORITY

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 ISLAMABAD 000872

SIPDIS

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E.O. 12958: DECL: 01/04/2018
TAGS: PGOV PHUM PK PREL
SUBJECT: POTENTIAL PAKISTANI PRIME MINISTER SHAH MEHMOOD
QURESHI

REF: A. ISLAMABAD 691
B. LAHORE 698
Classified By: Anne W. Patterson, Reasons 1.4 (b), (d)

1. (C) Summary: This is one of several profiles on political leaders who will play a large role in Pakistan's new government. The Pakistan People's Party (PPP) is in the process of coalition negotiations on forming a government but still faces a leadership struggle within its own ranks. With his separate power base in the party, Amin Faheem remains the front-runner for the job as Prime Minister, but PPP Co-Chair Asif Zardari sees Faheem as personally weak and politically positioned to rival Zardari. Shah Mehmood Qureshi is an experienced politician but remains controversial within the PPP in Punjab. Although polished and pro-western, Qureshi is a relative newcomer to the PPP, as he began his political career with Nawaz Sharif but fell out with him. PPP Co-Chair Asif Zardari, however, considers Qureshi a viable candidate for Prime Minister. End summary.

2. (C) Qureshi, the PPP's Punjab President, is a smooth and sophisticated interlocutor, and he appears sincere in professing that his and PPP's interests are congruent with those of the United States. He believes the PPP has more in common ideologically with Musharraf than with Nawaz. He is ambitious and has been self-promoting his candidacy for Prime Minister with foreign diplomats.

3. (C) Benazir Bhutto in early 2007 appointed Qureshi--a relatively junior member of the party's leadership--president of the PPP in Punjab Province. Party insiders speculated that Qureshi's appointment was intended to diminish the rising popularity and influence of Yousef Raza Gillani, the PPP Vice President and an alternate candidate for Prime Minister. Qureshi and Gillani are political and spiritual rivals from Multan; Qureshi's elevation was a direct snub to Gillani and may have exacerbated splits within the provincial party. Qureshi was optimistic about his appointment as PPP Punjab President, and told post that he believed his appointment was well-received by local party leaders (REF B).

4. (C) However, some senior PPP Punjabi leaders, including Gillani, consider Qureshi an outsider and have refused to accept his leadership. Qureshi faced further isolation because he is unfamiliar with the PPP's power structure in Punjab. As a hereditary spiritual leader, he demands separate seating arrangements at party functions, a trait that has antagonized grassroots supporters. Critics also accuse Qureshi of accepting money in exchange for granting party tickets for the February 18 parliamentary elections, although Qureshi supporters argue he is untainted by scandal or corruption.

5. (C) Zardari told NSA Tariq Aziz he was considering Qureshi as a candidate for Prime Minister. Aziz was unenthusiastic and told Zardari he thought Qureshi would not work well with other parties, was very ambitious, and might threaten Zardari's authority. Qureshi views himself as capable and independent front-man who can advance the party's objectives.
""If I am Prime Minister,"" Qureshi told us that ""I am not going to be Zardari's 'yes-man.' I am loyal to the party and to Zardari, but I am my own man."" Qureshi explained that if he was made Prime Minister he expected to be able to choose his own Ministers and would not passively accept directives from a behind-the-scenes Zardari.
Career and Personal History
--------------------------

6. (C) Qureshi originally joined Nawaz Sharif in 1985, and won seats in the Punjab Provincial Assembly in 1985, 1988, and 1990. He was Punjab's Finance Minister (1990-1993) under Nawaz's administration. Nawaz refused to give Qureshi a National Assembly ticket in 1993 because they differed over how to administer the province; Qureshi then left Nawaz to join the PPP. In exchange for switching sides, Qureshi won a National Assembly seat (1993) and became Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs. He lost his seat in 1997 after Nawaz swept the elections.

7. (C) Qureshi was District Nazim (mayor) of Multan
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(2000-2002); party critics say he ran in the local (non-party) election without Benazir's blessing but with Musharraf's tacit support. Qureshi was a capable administrator and oversaw a number of development projects in the Multan district. He used his influence as a nazim to win reelection to the National Assembly on a PPP ticket (2002-2007). During this time he developed a reputation as a forceful orator and championed strengthening and reforming parliament. Qureshi's critics, however, accuse him of failing to deliver substantial development to his Multan constituency. He retained his seat in the 2008 elections.

8. (C) Qureshi was born in Multan on June 22, 1956. He hails from a religious and politically active family and is the hereditary caretaker of two of the city's main Sufi shrines, which provides him with substantial income. Qureshi also claims the Sufi spiritual titles of Makdhoom and Pir. His attempt to assert spiritual authority in Multan has been controversial within the city's Sufi community, as many other Sufi leaders--including Gillani--reject his claims of spiritual authority. Their dispute probably is what led Qureshi initially to join Sharif's party in 1985, as Gillani was already associated with the PPP. Qureshi is married with one son and two daughters. He holds a B.A. from University of the Punjab and a Masters degree from Cambridge University.
Qureshi is fluent in Urdu, English, Punjabi, and Seraiki.

9. (C) Comment: We have multiple and repeated indications that Zardari does not want Faheem to be Prime Minister.
Zardari considers Faheem to be weak and lazy, but the real problem we suspect is that Faheem has his own significant power base in Sindh and would not be willing to vacate the PM job if/when Zardari wants to take it over himself. Beyond Faheem, however, Zardari does not have many good choices within the party. Choosing a Punjabi like Qureshi or Gillani (see septel for his profile) could alienate the PPP's Sindh base but could help the PPP expand its reach into the vote-rich Punjab heartland.
PATTERSON

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