Cablegate: Ambassador Discusses Elections with Fazlur Rehman
OO RUEHLH RUEHPW
DE RUEHIL #5037/01 3310818
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 270818Z NOV 07
FM AMEMBASSY ISLAMABAD
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 3483
INFO RUEHBUL/AMEMBASSY KABUL PRIORITY 7835
RUEHLO/AMEMBASSY LONDON PRIORITY 6794
RUEHNE/AMEMBASSY NEW DELHI PRIORITY 2337
RUEHKP/AMCONSUL KARACHI PRIORITY 8196
RUEHLH/AMCONSUL LAHORE PRIORITY 4186
RUEHPW/AMCONSUL PESHAWAR PRIORITY 2747
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUMICEA/USCENTCOM INTEL CEN MACDILL AFB FL PRIORITY
RHWSMRC/USCINCCENT 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 005037
E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/25/2017
TAGS: PREL PGOV PTER KISL PK
SUBJECT: AMBASSADOR DISCUSSES ELECTIONS WITH FAZLUR REHMAN
REF: ISLAMABAD 4273
Classified By: Anne W. Patterson, for reasons 1.4 (b)(d)
1. (C) Summary. Responding to an invitation, Ambassador met for lunch with Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F) leader Fazlur Rehman on November 20. Ambassador reiterated that the USG supporting lifting the state of emergency and steps to ensure the elections are free and fair. Rehman agreed, but he affirmed that his party would not boycott the elections. Seeking USG approval in the event he became Prime Minister, Rehman urged that Washington not crown Pakistan People's Party leader Benazir Bhutto prematurely. He had not decided if he could work with Bhutto again given her recent statements about religious leaders. Rehman expressed concern that deteriorating security in the tribal areas and the Northwest Frontier Province could prevent elections in some districts thereby undermining his party's tally. However, he appeared to relish his possible role as kingmaker in the upcoming elections. On participating in the follow-on to the Peace Jirga, Rehman said he would have to first consult “the opposition” in Afghanistan. Rehman was pleased to discover that the USG was willing to make a distinction between some Taliban members and al Qaeda leaders. End Summary.
2. (C) Ambassador and Polcouns met November 20 over lunch with Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F) leader Fazlur Rehman. Also attending the lunch were Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haideri, Senator Talha Mahmood, Senator Aza Swati and Malik Sikander Khan. Rehman again spoke through an interpreter, although he clearly understood much of the English he heard.
JUI-F Will Participate in Elections
3. (C) Ambassador opened the meeting by stating that the USG supported the lifting of the state of emergency and steps to ensure elections are free and fair. Rehman said it was JUI-F's policy to support free and fair elections, affirmed that he had no plans to take to the streets to protest the state of emergency, and said the party would participate in elections. (Note: Rehman later filed his nomination papers, breaking with the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) party, which so far continues to say it will boycott.)
4. (C) However, Rehman said that JUI-F was not calling for restoration of the judges. In his opinion, the judges Musharraf replaced for refusing to take an oath of loyalty to Musharraf in 2007, were the same group had taken an oath of loyalty to Musharraf in 1999, so there wasn't much of a difference.
Relations with the PPP
5. (C) Rehman said that JUI-F had greater differences with President Musharraf than Pakistan People's Party (PPP) leader Benazir Bhutto had with Musharraf. PPP, he said, agreed with Musharraf on everything except how to tackle religious extremism. He would “have to see” if JUI-F could ally itself with Bhutto's party. She had been making negative statements about religious people, talked of handing AQ Khan over to the U.S. authorities, and discussed letting the USG conduct unilateral operations in Pakistan. Rehman had spoken with Bhutto several times about possibly uniting the opposition parties against Musharraf; she had advocated establishing a neutral caretaker government, and restoring the judiciary. Rehman said he had suggested that Bhutto make these demands that could be discussed, not conditions that had to be met, and he counseled PPP against boycotting the election.
The USG Imprimatur
6. (C) Haideri said that all important parties in Pakistan had to get the approval of the USG. JUI-F wanted to be a major party and therefore wanted to be more engaged with the U.S. At one point in the conversation, Rehman asked the Ambassador if the USG would deal with him if he was elected as Prime Minister and cautioned the USG not to put all of its eggs in the basket of Benazir Bhutto. Ambassador noted that it was not USG policy to crown any particular leader in Pakistan. The U.S. was a practical nation that respected the democratic process and would deal with the choice of the Pakistani people. Rehman indicated his desire to travel to the U.S. and suggested he could lobby the Congress and American think tanks “as well as Benazir Bhutto.”
7. (C) Rehman said that JUI-F was trying to pacify the situation in the Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA), but “the people didn't always listen to them.” Even Rehman had received threats from militants after he met with the Ambassador (reftel) the last time. He did not support military action against the militants and felt that excessive military operations had made the situation in the FATA and the Northwest Frontier Province worse. He believed that the federal government had blocked implementation of some of the JUI-F program, for instance enactment of the Hasba legislation that would have imposed Sharia law, which had undermined popular support for the religious parties. So the people lost faith in the religious parties and now were resorting to violence under the leadership of demagogues like Maulana Fazlullah in Swat.
8. (C) Admitting that JUI-F did not have much support in the Punjab, Rehman said that JUI-F's strength remained in the FATA, NWFP and Balochistan. These were all crisis areas and Rehman was concerned that if elections could not take place in these areas because of security concerns, then JUI-F's prospects could be negatively affected.
9. (C) Rehman asked if he could “send a message” across to the “opposition forces” in Afghanistan that the U.S. did not want to stay in Afghanistan for a long time. This would pacify them a bit. Ambassador said we did not want to stay any longer than necessary to restore security and support the government of President Karzai. In response to Ambassador's question, Rehman said he wanted a sense of how the “opposition forces” would react before deciding whether to participate in a Pakistani delegation at a follow-on meeting of the Peace Jirga.
10. (C) Finally, Rehman said he wanted to ask “a very difficult question” -- did the USG make a distinction between the Taliban and al Qaeda? He was pleasantly taken aback when Ambassador said that the USG supported President Karzai's recent initiative to reach out to some members of the Taliban who were willing to be reconciled with the Afghan government, and that we recognized that these people did not always share the same views as the leaders of al Qaeda.
11. (C) Comment: Fazlur enjoys being courted by both Musharraf and Bhutto and sees himself increasingly in the lucrative position of being kingmaker, if not the next Prime Minister, because of JUI-F's voter strength in what may be a three-way vote tie among Pakistan's major parties. Even if JUI-F's voter support drops, he has made it clear that, free and fair elections notwithstanding, his still significant number of votes are up for sale.