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195758            3/6/2009 19:08            09LAHORE41 Consulate Lahore         SECRET                      "O 061908Z MAR 09

FM AMCONSUL LAHORE TO SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 3945 INFO AMEMBASSY ISLAMABAD IMMEDIATE AMCONSUL KARACHI PRIORITY AMCONSUL PESHAWAR PRIORITY AMEMBASSY KABUL AMEMBASSY NEW DELHI AMEMBASSY LONDON CIA WASHDC JOINT STAFF WASHINGTON DC NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL WASHINGTON DC SECDEF WASHINGTON DC USCENTCOM INTEL CEN MACDILL AFB FL AMCONSUL LAHORE "S E C R E T LAHORE 000041 E.O. 12958: DECL:  3/6/2034

TAGS: PGOV, PTER, KDEM, PK

SUBJECT: (S) SHAHBAZ SHARIF OPEN TO NEGOTIATIONS WITH PRESIDENT

ZARDARI

Derived from: DSCG 05-1, D

1. (S) Summary:  In a March 6 meeting with Principal Officer, Pakistan Muslim League - Nawaz (PML-N) President Shahbaz Sharif laid out a number of preconditions for a quick negotiated settlement to the current political impasse with President Asif Zardari including that (1) the agreement included concrete progress to resolve the judges' issue and (2) their was a guarantor to ensure President Zardari lived up to his commitments.  Shahbaz suggested that either a dismissal of all judges who had taken an extra-constitutional oath -- including former Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry -- or creation of a constitutional court superior to the Supreme Court might offer ways to resolve the issue but noted that Nawaz Sharif had not yet been consulted on these ideas.  Shahbaz worried that if the current political impasse was not resolved prior to March 12, the long march could be exploited both by terrorists and by elements of the establishment who still wished to derail the democratic process.  While Shahbaz reposed continued confidence in Chief of Army Staff Ashfaq Kayani and suggested that Kayani could be used to pressure Zardari towards a reasonable agreement, Shahbaz cautioned that Kayani was only one general and that others were undoubtedly pushing Kayani to use the current political impasse as a pretext for intervention in the system.  End Summary.

2. (S) Principal Officer met March 6 with PML-N President Shahbaz Sharif to deliver talking points provided by Ambassador Holbrooke.  Shahbaz immediately accepted that a quick negotiated settlement of all of the Sharifs' outstanding issues with President Zardari was in the national interest and stated that he and his brother were fully prepared to be constructive participants in a dialogue process that yielded concrete results.  However, Shahbaz cautioned that it was President Zardari who had initiated this latest political crisis through his pressure on the Supreme Court to disqualify the Sharifs and that it was President Zardari who would need to show himself open to a final negotiated settlement.  Shahbaz opined that any trust in President Zardari's intentions was gone, owing to his habit of negotiating and then breaking deals with the Sharifs. Shahbaz stated that he was only interested in dialogue if it led to concrete commitments from Zardari that would finally resolve the outstanding issues dividing the parties, particularly the judges' issue.  He also stressed that given Zardari's past track record on agreements, any settlement would need to include a guarantor, who could exercise pressure on both sides to fulfill commitments.  Shahbaz did not offer comment on to which party he would like to serve as guarantor, deferring instead to his elder brother.

3. (S) Shahbaz stated that for any reconciliation between the PML-N and President Zardari to proceed, the President would at a minimum have to resolve a formula that restored Shahbaz's government, restored Nawaz's eligibility, and restored -- if only for a few moments -- former Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry.  Shahbaz stated that the first two issues could easily be resolved through presidential decree and/or parliamentary action, if both the PML-N and PPP leadership agreed to do so. On the Iftikhar Chaudhry issue, Shahbaz suggested two possible compromises (although he noted that his brother might have separate complimentary or conflicting ideas).  First, he proposed that President Zardari announce Chaudhry's restoration concomitant with a parliamentary decision, removing all judges who have taken oath under a provisional constitutional order (PCO) from office.  Under this formula, Chaudhry, who took a PCO oath following Musharraf's 1999 coup, along with most other senior judges would be removed from office.  The parties could then implement the provisions of the Charter of Democracy, which lays out a system for multiparty consultation and agreement on judicial appointments.  Second, he suggested that the Constitutional Court, envisaged in the Charter of Democracy, be established and that it be made superior to the Supreme Court. Iftikhar Chaudhry's restoration as Chief Justice would then have little measurable impact, as the Constitutional Court, staffed by appointees from both parties, could nullify his decisions.

4. (S) Shahbaz agreed with USG concerns that the current political impasse was distracting attention from issues of national importance.  He also expressed his concern that terrorists could exploit the current demonstrations and the planned long march to carry out attacks on the public and political leaders.  He also expressed concern that while he and his brother could confidently control PML-N elements in the long march and keep them peaceful, people from numerous other organizations outside their influence would also be participating.  Shahbaz expressed serious reservations that in the current emotionally charged climate, these elements could resort to vandalism and/or violence.  If such occurred, Shahbaz worried that the army might be tempted to intervene in the political system.

5. (S) Shahbaz expressed great faith in Chief of Army Staff Kayani's commitment to civilian rule and democracy.  He stated without prompting that Kayani was the least likely army officer to intervene in the democratic process.  However, he cautioned that Kayani, unlike Musharraf, was surrounded by corps commanders who were effectively his equals in terms of seniority.  If these officers pressed for a direct or Bangladesh-style indirect intervention in the system, Kayani would have no choice but to comply with their wishes.  Shahbaz stated that he hoped Kayani would play a constructive role at this time in pressing all political leaders to resolve their outstanding issues quickly and through negotiation.

6. (S) Shahbaz remained optimistic that if a provincial election for Chief Minister were declared, the PML-N could muster the necessary votes to elect its candidate (currently Sardar Zulfiqar Khan Khosa -- an 80 plus year old former Punjab Governor from Dera Ghazi Khan currently serving as PML-N's Punjab President) as Chief Minister.  Shahbaz was confident that under no circumstances would PML-N or PML forward block members vote for the PPP, as, he argued, they are mindful that the next elections will go to the PML-N and these members wish to win a second term.  Shahbaz claimed that he was open to an alliance with the PML, provided that the PML dropped its initial demand that the Chief Minister slot go to the PML, as there was no way he could sell that to Nawaz.  Shahbaz reported that he was in regular contact with Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain and Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi (through intermediaries) regarding a possible deal, but noted that at least initially, the PML would need to agree to a partnership without preconditions -- in order to win over Nawaz.  Ministries would, of course, be provided appropriate to the PML's status as a ""junior coalition partner.""

7. (S) Comment:  Shahbaz Sharif seemed slightly more open than during his meeting a week earlier to reconciliation with President Zardari.  However, he seemed extremely cautious about any direct dialogue with President Zardari absent an outside guarantor and pre-agreement from Zardari to resolve all issues including the restoration -- even if only symbolic -- of Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry.  Post believes that Shahbaz has not discussed his various ""solutions"" in detail with his elder brother Nawaz Sharif, who will ultimately have to acquiesce to any final deal.  Shahbaz offered no assurances that the PML-N was prepared to end its street protests / public meetings unilaterally, placing the blame for any disruptive consequences on President Zardari, who Shahbaz regards as provocateur. Shahbaz remained pessimistic about President Zardari's desire to pursue reconciliation.

End Comment

HUNT

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