Cablegate: Pml Debates Musharraf's Options
O 160450Z AUG 08
FM AMEMBASSY ISLAMABAD
TO SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 8358
INFO AMEMBASSY KABUL PRIORITY
AMEMBASSY LONDON PRIORITY
AMEMBASSY NEW DELHI PRIORITY
AMCONSUL KARACHI PRIORITY
AMCONSUL LAHORE PRIORITY
AMCONSUL PESHAWAR PRIORITY
SECDEF WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
USCENTCOM INTEL CEN MACDILL AFB FL PRIORITY
USCINCCENT MACDILL AFB FL PRIORITY
CIA WASHDC PRIORITY
C O N F I D E N T I A L ISLAMABAD 002736
E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/04/2018
TAGS: PREL PTER PGOV PK
SUBJECT: PML DEBATES MUSHARRAF'S OPTIONS
Classified By: Anne W. Patterson, for reasons 1.4 (b)(d)
1. (C) Summary. In an August 15 meeting with Ambassador, Pakistan Muslim League (PML) leaders outlined their realistic best case scenario for Musharraf. He resigns with an indemnity package guaranteed by the Chief of Army Staff (COAS), the Army provides him and his family lifetime security, and a successor is chosen allowing Musharraf to pass the baton of power to someone trustworthy. The last condition is unlikely to happen until day 29 of the 30 allotted by the constitution to choose a new president.
However, the other conditions mirror what COAS Kayani told Ambassador in a conversation (septel) earlier in the day.
PML leaders believe it is in their interest to delay the process to set Asif Zardari and Nawaz Sharif against each other; they will use parliamentary tactics if necessary to slow things down. They confirmed the safe parachute option of Musharraf seeking refuge in the UAE is still being discussed. End Summary.
2. (C) Ambassador and Polcouns met August 15 with Pakistan Muslim League (PML) President Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain and Opposition Leader Pervaiz Elahi, at their request. The discussion centered around President Musharraf's options; no doubt the same debate is being repeated in all of Pakistan's political salons this week.
3. (C) Shujaat said that Musharraf had not yet decided what to do. It was down to two choices: resign before charges are filed or resign after having defended himself. Shujaat argued that it was better for Musharraf, the PML and the U.S. if Musharraf defended himself against what would be baseless charges. Even if Musharraf had to resign immediately after defending himself (i.e. before an impeachment vote he would lose), this would remove any stain against his name and the party's image.
4. (C) Elahi disagreed, saying it would be better for Musharraf to resign before impeachment charges are filed; however, there were conditions. There should be a broad indemnity (that did not equate to pardon for crimes that Musharraf had not committed). The Army should provide security for Musharraf and his family for their lifetime so Musharraf could live out his life in Pakistan. The Chief of Army Staff should be the guarantor of the indemnity agreement because neither Asif Zardari nor Nawaz Sharif could be trusted to abide by their promises. And, the decision on who would become President should be made before Musharraf resigns so that he could hand over power in good conscience to someone trustworthy. The key for Elahi was the wording of the indemnity package and the guarantor. Shujaat agreed that if Musharraf had to resign it should be on the grounds outlined by Elahi. There was some discussion of whether it would be possible to extend any immunity guarantee to PML party leaders, but Shujaat dismissed this idea.
5. (C) Asked what the U.S. wanted or feared, Ambassador said that we did not want Musharraf humiliated; he should be able to live in Pakistan as an elder statesman with the benefits that accrue to former presidents. The U.S. would not encourage Musharraf to resign but equally we would not try to convince him to fight. We had made this position clear, she said, to both major parties in the coalition.
6. (C) Ambassador said it would be far better for Pakistan's image if Musharraf were allowed to remain in Pakistan rather than flying off in the night to a third country. Shujaat agreed, but said that ISI interlocutors were working on the UAE option.
7. (C) Shujaat argued that time was on the PML's side; if they waited long enough, Asif Zardari and Nawaz Sharif would turn on each other. Elahi agreed, saying that the coalition had not yet decided on the charge sheet. They faced a difficult balancing act--if they included charges like Musharraf's action on the Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) or military action in the tribal areas, they would invite opposition from the Army. Elahi argued that Musharraf's extra-constitutional actions in both 1999 and 2007 had been blessed ex-post facto by the courts so they could not fairly be listed on the charge sheet. Citing Zardari's Sunday Times accusations that Musharraf had siphoned off U.S. Coalition Support Funds, Elahi worried that the coalition would make unsubstantiated allegations about corruption by Musharraf or his family.
Ambassador said she hoped she had ended Zardari's attempts to make that unfounded allegation. Elahi indicated that Musharraf was planning to sue for libel over the Sunday Times piece.
8. (C) Elahi, a former Speaker of the National Assembly, also said the PML had a few parliamentary tricks to play that would prolong the process. For example, they could file a motion calling for a confidence vote on the Speaker. The Speaker would have to win that motion before any further impeachment action could be taken.
9. (C) Shujaat and Elahi would not identify a candidate they would support to replace Musharraf. ""That will be up to the coalition,"" said Shujaat. But they agreed it should be a non-political elder statesman. They agreed that Nawaz would never accept Zardari as President and insisted that the Army would also oppose Zardari.
10. (C) Comment: The Chaudhrys seemed resigned to debating, not if but how and when Musharraf would leave office, and they see the value of slowing the process down as much as possible. As always with the Chaudhrys, the discussion was frank, practical and aimed at keeping their options open for the future. Pakistani history has taught them to expect payback for the last eight years of their political maneuvering, and they are bracing for disintegration of the party and defection of many PML members in the coming days. Still, these are a couple of canny politicians, and there are many second acts in Pakistan.