Cablegate: Senator Kerry Meets with Pakistani President
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SS E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 03 ISLAMABAD 000428
E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/16/2020
TAGS: PGOV PREL ECON ETRD IN PK
SUBJECT: SENATOR KERRY MEETS WITH PAKISTANI PRESIDENT
REF: ISLAMABAD 399
Classified By: Ambassador Anne W. Patterson for reasons 1.4 (b, d).
1. (C) Summary: In a February 16 meeting with President Zardari, Senator Kerry said that India was ""very open"" to constructive talks with Pakistan, and urged Pakistan to reach an agreement with India on counter terrorism. Zardari said with U.S. support, talks could move forward. He said he doubted broad talks with the Taliban were possible, specific regional efforts might succeed. Pakistan was fighting militants in Pakistan on a ""shoe-string"" budget, but Zardari said that he was committed to finding ways to undermine the pull towards militancy in Pakistani society. Kerry said that the GOP needed to rebuild conflict-affected areas to cement military gains against the insurgency. Kerry encouraged Zardari to develop trade agreements with Pakistan's neighbors and agreed to Zardari's request to build consensus for liberalizing U.S. trade with Pakistan. Zardari lamented that he was ""a casualty of the world recession,"" and requested U.S. support to relieve IMF conditions on the Pakistani economy. He said he needed ""a deal"" with the United States to strengthen his political position. End Summary.
Encouraging an Indo-Pak Agreement
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2. (C) Senator John Kerry opened the February 16 meeting with President Asif Ali Zardari by referring to his recent talks with Indian PM Manmohan Singh and Pakistani PM Yousuf Raza Gilani (reftel). Kerry said Singh was ""very open"" to negotiation with Pakistan, starting with the upcoming discussions between Pakistan and India's Foreign Secretaries. Kerry said that cooperation on counter terrorism with the Indians could lead to Indian compromises on key Pakistani issues such as Kashmir and water use in subsequent meetings. Kerry encouraged the GOP to come up with specific offers to which the GOI could respond.
3. (C) Zardari agreed dialogue is the only way forward. However, he justified continued suspicion of India, citing recent ""confirmation"" that there was Indian involvement in the Mumbai attacks. He claimed India had increased its military spending 30 percent this year and described this as a direct threat to Pakistan. When Kerry pointed out the Chinese threat to India, Zardari responded that Indian tanks cannot operate in the Chinese border region and could only be intended for an attack on Pakistan. India has 4,700 tanks, he explained, while Pakistan has only 2,600. ""Capability creates a fear,"" he added.
4. (C) Kerry said Zardari should put his concerns on the negotiating table as there was a real opportunity for productive conversation between India and Pakistan now: ""You could arrive at a surprising consensus of mutual understanding."" Zardari conceded that Singh deserved respect, but said he was not confident about the rest of the Indian government.
Zardari,s Take on Afghanistan and Iran
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5. (C) Kerry asked Zardari what affect President Obama's announcement of a U.S. drawdown date had had on the possibility of success in Afghanistan. Zardari answered that it had given a boost to those fighting against the United States, but that they ""live in illusion."" Zardari doubted that the U.S. would actually leave Afghanistan in two and a half years, adding that ""no one can afford that."" Kerry asked if dialogue with the Taliban was possible. Zardari gave a qualified yes: in specific regions, like Quetta, dialogue might be possible, but on a larger scale it was not. Kerry asked to what degree events in Iran have an impact in Pakistan. Zardari said Iran needs to be engaged, and recounted his visit to Iran as an emissary of the ""free world.""
Pakistan's Fight Against Militants
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6. (C) Kerry noted that, with the December mosque bombing in Rawalpindi, Pakistani terrorism had changed. He asked if Pakistan was going to commit to doing whatever it takes to get rid of extremism. Zardari replied that he was thinking of the future and what will win people away from extremism in ten or fifteen years. He added, however, that he was ""fighting a war on a shoestring budget.""
7. (C) Kerry said the GOP needed to rebuild the conflict-affected areas as soon as possible. He explained that new roads, power plants, and health clinics need to go in quickly or any progress made in vanquishing the militants and extremists would be lost. Zardari agreed but added that the war went beyond these areas. He explained that when a U.S. soldier leaves Afghanistan, he no longer fears for his life; when a Pakistani soldier leaves the conflict areas, however, he has to worry that militants might target him in his home in Punjab or Sindh.
Trade, not Aid
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8. (C) Zardari complained that Reconstruction Opportunity Zones (ROZs) were too confined and requested broader trade concessions for Pakistan. Kerry said that, given the increase in troops in Afghanistan and the subsequent increased U.S. demand on Pakistan, he would see if greater trading concessions for Pakistan as a whole could be included in an upcoming security package.
9. (C) Kerry warned, however, that his ability to push for a liberalized trade agreement between Pakistan and the U.S. was directly tied to Pakistan's democratic stability and continued cooperation in supporting Afghanistan and defeating terrorists. Every time there is a ""hiccough"" in Pakistan's support, Kerry explained, Congress waivers on giving Pakistan additional concessions or aid. As Pakistan was a new democracy, Zardari said there would naturally be many ""hiccoughs,"" but added, ""message understood."" Kerry said that Pakistan also needed to create trade agreements with its neighbors, which would let the Pakistani public know that the GOP was committed to real economic improvement.
Pakistan Nuclear Assistance
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10. (S) Kerry said that the lingering A.Q. Khan network remained ""an albatross"" around Pakistan's neck. Pakistan's ability to reach a new security arrangement with India and the increased strength of Pakistan's democratic institutions would be necessary conditions for the U.S. to consider civilian nuclear assistance to Pakistan.
Something for the People of Pakistan
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11. (C) Zardari expressed his gratitude for U.S. assistance to Pakistan. He opined that he was ""a casualty of the world recession"" and needed something to give his people, as all they had since he came to power were price increases. Zardari requested that the USG weigh in with the IMF against further electricity tariff increases. Another increase, he warned, would result in riots in the streets. However, Zardari promised to broaden the tax base and implement a Value-added Tax (VAT), as required by the IMF Stand-by Arrangement.
12. (C) Zardari said poverty, uncertainty, and the lack of educational and employment opportunities undermined Pakistan's potential as well as his political standing. Zardari said he needs a ""deal"" to show his people that he has something to offer them, and that assistance and trade concessions were prerequisites to ""be able to think about India.""
13. (U) This cable was drafted after Senator Kerry departed Pakistan.
14. (U) Participants
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Senator John Kerry
Ambassador Anne W. Patterson
Dr. Jonah Blank, Senior PSM, SFRC
Ms. Fatema Sumar, PSM, SFRC
LCDR Greg Kausner, Military Liaison
Wendy Nassmacher, Embassy Notetaker
President Ali Asif Zardari
Defense Minister Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar
Interior Minister Rehman Malik
Finance Minister Shaukat Tarin
Senator Syeda Sughra Hussain Imam
Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir
Presidential Chief of Staff Salman Faruqi
Presidential Media Advisor Farahnaz Ispahani