ID: 1418042/16/2008 6:37
E.O. 12958: DECL: 01/04/2018
TAGS: PGOV, PK, PREL
SUBJECT: ZARDARI'S POST ELECTION PLANS
REF: ISLAMABAD 549
Classified By: Anne W. Patterson, Reasons 1.4 (b), (d)
1. (C) Summary: National Security Adviser Aziz told Ambassador February 15 that he, Musharraf, and ISI Director Taj have met several times with Pakistan People's Party (PPP) Co-chairman Asif Zardari on post-election planning. Zardari has scheduled a PPP Executive Committee meeting on February 19 to choose the PPP's PM candidate. Believing Amin Faheem to be weak, Zardari appears to be considering choosing PPP Punjab President Shah Mehmood Qureshi as a PPP candidate for Prime Minister. Aziz fears Zardari wants to be Prime Minister himself and that he might cut a deal with Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) leader Nawaz Sharif, leaving Musharraf out in the cold. We see Zardari's continuing contacts with the government as a sign that he will deal with Musharraf after the election; only the poll numbers can determine whether a PPP-Nawaz alliance is really feasible. End Summary.
2. (C) On February 15, NSA Tariq Aziz told Ambassador that in the past four day he has met twice with Zardari, who asked him for “advice” on who should be prime minister if the PPP is asked to form a government. DG ISI Taj and Aziz urged Zardari not to pursue the premiership for himself, as it would split the party and reduce PPP's national influence. Zardari raised the idea of becoming Prime Minister with Aziz on February 14. Aziz told Ambassador that this might have been possible in years past, but under the new constitution, which stipulates that the PM must be a member of parliament, Zardari would not qualify (reftel).
3. (C) Aziz said he encouraged Zardari to support Amin Faheem for PM. Zardari complained that Faheem is a poor administrator who lacks the skills needed to run the government. Aziz admitted to Ambassador that this is true; when Faheem was Minister of Communications he spent much of his time at his home in Karachi, only came to the Ministry a few days a week, and arrived at the office mid-day. Aziz told Zardari that Faheem's shortcomings could be mitigated by appointing a strong staff, but Zardari remained convinced Faheem was too weak to be PM.
4. (C) Zardari seemed to be pushing PPP Punjab President Shah Mehmood Qureshi as a possible PM candidate. Aziz was less enthusiastic with this option; he told Zardari that Qureshi would not work well with other parties, was very ambitious, and implied Qureshi could threaten Zardari's authority. Zardari and Aziz also discussed Former Defense Minister Aftab Mirani and PPP Vice Chairman Yousef Gilani as less likely PM options.
5. (C) Although they recently held a joint press conference, Zardari claimed Nawaz Sharif was “pestering him.” Aziz expressed great concern to Ambassador about a possible PPP-Nawaz alliance. Aziz claimed the Saudis were heavily funding Sharif's campaign to ensure a PPP defeat and hedge their bets against Musharraf. Taj called the Saudi Ambassador and requested this stop, saying it violated the GOP's agreement with the Saudis on Nawaz's return from exile. Aziz observed that if the PML-N and the PPP formed a government, “What options would Musharraf have?” Aziz, who previously predicted Musharraf's party would win 66 National Assembly seats, now said he thought the party would not even hold on to the Punjab Provincial Assembly.
6. (C) Comment: Aziz was clearly depressed and pessimistic about the possibility that Musharraf's party could hold on to power in the next government; we see Zardari's continuing contacts with the government as a sign that he will deal with Musharraf after the election. Zardari has scheduled a PPP Executive Committee meeting on February 19 to choose the PPP's PM candidate. Qureshi has been actively promoting himself as a PM candidate and has been campaigning in both Sindh and Punjab, but we wonder if a Punjabi with a limited following would be accepted by a Sindh-based party. Also on February 15, the Election Commission's Secretary predicted to Ambassador that Nawaz would do very well in Punjab. However, many analysts question whether Nawaz has fielded enough decent candidates to pull past either Musharraf's party or the PPP. Only the poll numbers can determine whether a PPP-Nawaz alliance is really feasible.