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Cablegate: Pakistan: Uk Assessment and Medium-Term Thinking, Support for Friends of Pakistan Group

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C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 LONDON 002243

SIPDIS NOFORN

E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/04/2018

TAGS: PREL PGOV PINR PTER PK UK

SUBJECT: PAKISTAN: UK ASSESSMENT AND MEDIUM-TERM THINKING, SUPPORT FOR FRIENDS OF PAKISTAN GROUP REF: LONDON 2143 Classified By: Political Counselor Richard Mills, reasons 1.4 (b/d).

1.(C/NF) HMG fully expects PPP leader Asif Zardari to take Pakistan's presidency on September 6, but consider it unlikely that he will hold the position for more than six to 12 months. Without popular support, influence in his party, and the ability to lead, Zardari is unlikely to deliver on any of his electoral promises or on issues of import to the West, like counter terrorism (CT) and governance reform. After Zardari's election, Prime Minister Brown plans to suggest to Zardari that he begin a "structured dialogue" with Afghan President Karzai. HMG fully expects PML-N leader Nawaz Sharif to take the presidency after Zardari and plans to up its engagement with Sharif, in the hopes of toning down anti-Western rhetoric. HMG supports creation of a "Friends of Pakistan" Group and sees it as a possible vehicle for delivering an economic recovery and rescue package that could be linked to specific reforms, like increased accountability and transparency in military spending. HMG welcomes further dialogue with the USG on Pakistan-Afghanistan structured dialogue and the Friends of Pakistan Group. End summary.

Zardari for Now ---------------

2.(C/NF) FCO Pakistan Team Leader Laura Hickey told us September 3 that HMG fully expects Pakistan People's Party (PPP) leader Asif Zardari to win Pakistan's presidency on September 6, but it is unlikely he will retain the position for long. In HMG estimation, Zardari has no popular support, is strongly disliked within his own party, is not trust-worthy, and is unable to deliver on the countless promises he has recently made to win support in his bid for the presidency. Absent popular support or military backing, Zardari will be unable to hold onto the presidency. HMG projects that he will encumber the top position for six to 12 months, and there will be elections before Zardari completes his term.

3.(C/NF) As far as CT and security cooperation are concerned, Zardari is not at odds with UK and U.S. interests. HMG, however, finds it unlikely that he will be able to deliver because he is an ineffective leader who has "no plans and no strategy." Zardari is "eager for the international community's support, especially since he has no real popular support," and the UK and U.S. may be able to use that to bring Zardari on board with security sector and governance reform initiatives.

4.(C/NF) After the September 6 elections, Prime Minister Brown plans to phone Zardari to congratulate him and to suggest that Zardari begin a "structured dialogue" with Afghan President Karzai. HMG would appreciate further discussion with the USG about what a structured dialogue could look like and who could provide secretariat and facilitation support.

Engaging Sharif for Future Gain -------------------------------

5.(C/NF) HMG fully expects Pakistan Muslim League-N leader Nawaz Sharif to take the presidency after Zardari and plans to begin engaging him now on key issues. Sharif is well-placed through his connections in both the political and religious spheres in Pakistan to deliver on issues important to the West, including CT, security sector reform, and improved governance. Privately, Sharif says "all the right things about counter terrorism and reform." His public line, however, is too anti-Western. While it is clear that he has adopted this "damaging rhetoric to curry popular favor," HMG hopes to encourage him to tone down his anti-Westernism to prevent anti-Western comments from unnecessarily polarizing the debate and de-railing Western-supported initiatives.

Friends of Pakistan -------------------

6.(C/NF) Hickey said the UK fully supports the creation of a LONDON 00002243 002 OF 002 "Friends of Pakistan" Group and would like to explore the mandate of such a group with the USG. Hickey suggested that the group might be a vehicle for coordinating the urgently needed economic recovery and rescue package for Pakistan that many in the international community are considering. The group could also oversee the "Tribal Belt Fund."

7.(C/NF) Hickey suggested that the rescue package provided an opportunity for the international community to push through some governance reform issues. While it would be difficult for domestic reasons for the UK to support linked assistance in the humanitarian and governance sectors, HMG sees the economic assistance package as a possible mechanism for pushing through reforms on accountability and transparency in military spending. Given Zardari's track record on corruption, this would be a particularly welcome initiative, Hickey added.

Comment -------

8.(C/NF) HMG makes no attempt to hide from us its disdain for Zardari and preference for Sharif. Most in HMG see Zardari as highly corrupt and lacking popular support, simply having benefited from his wife's unfortunate demise. They see Sharif as a real political animal who can get things done, and their focus will likely remain on bringing him around to Western thinking on CT, security sector reform, and democratic governance and on toning down his anti-Western rhetoric. Visit London's Classified Website: XXXXXXXXXXXX
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