196903 3/14/2009 11:25 09LAHORE49 Consulate Lahore SECRET "O 141125Z MAR 09
FM AMCONSUL LAHORE TO SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 3957 INFO AMEMBASSY ISLAMABAD IMMEDIATE AMCONSUL KARACHI IMMEDIATE AMCONSUL PESHAWAR IMMEDIATE NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL WASHINGTON DC CIA WASHDC AMEMBASSY KABUL AMEMBASSY NEW DELHI AMEMBASSY LONDON JOINT STAFF WASHINGTON DC SECDEF WASHINGTON DC USCENTCOM INTEL CEN MACDILL AFB FL AMCONSUL LAHORE "S E C R E T LAHORE 000049
E.O. 12958: DECL: 3/14/2034
TAGS: PGOV, KDEM, PTER, PK
SUBJECT: SHARIFS REMAIN OPEN TO NEGOTIATION
CLASSIFIED BY: Bryan D. Hunt, Principal Officer, American
Consulate Lahore, Department of State. REASON: 1.4 (d)
1. (S) Summary: In a March 14 meeting, Pakistan Muslim League - Nawaz (PML-N) President Shahbaz Sharif told Principal Officer that he and his brother -- former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif -- welcomed efforts by the United States, United Kingdom, and the Pakistan Army to negotiate a political settlement between his party and the government. Shahbaz stated that the Sharifs' key demands in these negotiations were: (1) restoration of the electoral eligibility of both Sharif brothers; (2) restoration of Shahbaz Sharif's government in the Punjab; (3) some sort of face-saving restoration of former Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry; and (4) agreement on transfers of powers between the President and the Prime Minister in accordance with the Charter of Democracy. Shahbaz noted that the lawyers would need to be brought into the discussion on Iftikhar Chaudhry's restoration and that, in his assessment, both current Chief Justice Dogar and Punjab Governor Salman Taseer would be unable to play a role in the new system. Shahbaz rejected the proposal for a provincial unity government headed by the Pakistan Muslim League (PML), as contrary to the clear will of the electorate. Shahbaz accepted Interior Minister Rehman Malik's proposal to negotiate an appropriate venue for the lawyers' planned sit-in in the Islamabad/Rawalpindi area, but stated that Advisor Malik would need to negotiate such a deal with the lawyers, not simply the PML-N. As demonstrated in the meeting, the PML-N has hardened its demands and displayed little flexibility. End Summary.
2. (S) PML-N President Shahbaz Sharif welcomed efforts by the United States, United Kingdom, and the Pakistan Chief of Army Staff to negotiate a political settlement between the leadership of the PML-N and the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP). Shahbaz stated that the three parties working in concert should eventually be able to place sufficient pressure on both sides to find a durable solution to the crisis and that the Sharifs were satisfied that any deal guaranteed by the three would be implemented. Shahbaz stressed that he and his brother -- former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif -- were sincere in desiring a negotiated settlement to the outstanding issues and promised that they would show ""maximum flexibility"" in trying to find a workable approach in concert with international donors and the Pakistan army. Shahbaz, however, assessed that it was President Zardari's intransigence on restoration of former Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry and his misreading of Punjabi politics that had created the current crisis and that would likely be the greatest stumbling block to quick progress in the discussions.
3. (S) Shahbaz Sharif highlighted that the PML-N currently had four core goals in the negotiation process. First, the restoration of the eligibility of both Sharif brothers to contest in national elections was a prerequisite to progress on any other issues. Shahbaz bluntly stated that his party had no room for maneuver on this demand. Second, Shahbaz insisted that his government in the Punjab province would have to be restored. Principal Officer raised the possibility of a provincial unity government headed by the minority PML, which Shahbaz rejected. The former Chief Minister argued that his party had a clear plurality in the provincial assembly, which had been established through an election that had been judged by the international community to be free, fair, and credible. Shahbaz stated that this gave his party the mandate to form the government and that the public would never accept a deal that did not restore his government to power. Shahbaz stressed that his party was not open to negotiation on this point. Shahbaz underscored that Punjab Governor Salman Taseer would need to be replaced.
4. (S) On the issue of former Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, Shahbaz claimed that the PML-N was open to negotiation, provided that Chaudhry was symbolically restored as Chief Justice of Pakistan. Shahbaz stressed that his party could not afford the political humiliation of abandoning what had become a long-standing principle in favor of Chaudhry's restoration. At the same time, Shahbaz claimed to understand that Chaudhry was a problematic jurist, whose powers would need to be carefully curtailed. Shahbaz underscored that the Sharifs were prepared to adopt any safeguards that President Zardari desired prior to Chaudhry's restoration, including curtailment of his powers to create judicial benches, removal of his suo moto jurisdiction, and/or establishment of a constitutional court as a check on the Supreme Court. Shahbaz also stated that following the restoration, the PML-N was prepared to end the issue and remove Chaudhry once and for all by adopting legislation proposed in the Charter of Democracy that would ban all judges who had taken an oath under a Provisional Constitutional Order (PCO) from serving. Asked about the PML-N's openness to a new role for current Chief Justice Hameed Dogar, Shahbaz stated that Dogar was a completely discredited jurist and that his party did not believe that he should play any role in a future set-up after his mandatory retirement on March 20. Shahbaz left the clear impression that the PML-N was unwilling to show any flexibility on Dogar.
5. (S) Shahbaz raised that his party also believed any negotiated settlement should include movement towards full adoption of the Charter of Democracy, particularly its provisions related to the repeal of Musharraf's controversial 17th amendment and the transfer of powers from the President to the Prime Minister. Shahbaz stated that this had been a long-standing demand of the PML-N (although it had not previously been raised with the international community in the context of the current political crisis) and that given the problems Zardari had caused, it was prudent to move forward. Shahbaz indicated that the actual implementation of this part of the agreement could be prolonged, but felt that his party would require, at a minimum, a guarantee from Zardari that it would eventually move forward on an agreed-upon timeframe.
6. (S) Shahbaz noted that both he and Nawaz Sharif were very concerned about the potential for criminal and/or terrorist elements to exploit the chaos created by the long march and induce violence. He thanked the Principal Officer for USG efforts to encourage former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to take greater precautions with his personal security, noting that Nawaz had understood the message and had promised to modify his behavior. Shahbaz stated that he was disappointed that Interior Minister Rehman Malik had only belatedly advised the Sharifs formally of threats to their security in a March 13 letter. He noted that even this had only come following the Sharifs' independent gathering and sharing of information with the federal government on criminal elements' intentions to make trouble during the long march. Nonetheless, Shahbaz conceded that Malik's fears were well-founded and promised that the senior leadership would take ""full-proof"" security precautions during the rallies and minimize their exposure to the public.
7. (S) Principal Officer asked Shahbaz whether his party was prepared to negotiate the venue for the planned Islamabad sit-in with the federal government in order to minimize the security threat and disruption to governance in the capital. Shahbaz stated that ""unofficially"" the PML-N was fully prepared to discuss the issue with Malik and to compromise on a venue acceptable to both parties, even if it meant holding the sit-in in Rawalpindi or on the outskirts of Islamabad. However, Shahbaz stated that the PML-N was not the primary organizer of the event and that if Malik wished to discuss such matters, he should include the other sit-in participants, principally the lawyers' movement leadership in the negotiations. Shahbaz was adamant that while the PML-N was prepared to be helpful, the party would have to follow the lawyers lead on this question, as the lawyers were the primary event organizers. (Note: Ambassador conveyed Shahbaz's message to Interior Minister Rehman Malik, who requested that the PML-N take the lead in organizing a trilateral discussion including himself and the lawyers. Post has conveyed Malik's request to Shahbaz Sharif. Shahbaz, after consulting with senior leadership of the PML-N, refused to assist. End Note.)
8. (S) As was expected, the Sharifs are expanding the issues on which they want progress as part of negotiations with President Zardari. The removal of Governor Taseer, the final retirement of Chief Justice Dogar, and progress on the Charter of Democracy provisions related to the 17th amendment are all new PML-N demands that will likely be highly controversial with President Zardari. Post believes that the Sharifs are likely flexible on the 17th amendment but will hold firm to both the Dogar and Taseer removals -- for largely personal reasons. The offer to negotiate on the sit-in venue is an important concession that has the possibility to help improve security and minimize direct confrontation during the long-march and that could serve as a confidence building measure for future negotiations. However, Shahbaz's insistence on the lawyers' involvement in this process could easily complicate the discussions significantly, and we will need to continue to lean on the Sharifs to show leadership and bring the lawyers to a reasonable compromise.