ID: 110340    5/31/2007 13:13    07ISLAMABAD2401    Embassy Islamabad    SECRET        "VZCZCXRO1214 PP RUEHDBU RUEHLH RUEHPW DE RUEHIL #2401/01 1511313 ZNY SSSSS ZZH P 311313Z MAY 07 FM AMEMBASSY ISLAMABAD TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 9436 INFO RUEHAH/AMEMBASSY ASHGABAT PRIORITY 2477 RUEHTA/AMEMBASSY ASTANA PRIORITY 0168 RUEHKB/AMEMBASSY BAKU PRIORITY 0150 RUEHEK/AMEMBASSY BISHKEK PRIORITY 4214 RUEHDBU/AMEMBASSY DUSHANBE PRIORITY RUEHBUL/AMEMBASSY KABUL PRIORITY 7146 RUEHLO/AMEMBASSY LONDON PRIORITY 5702 RUEHNE/AMEMBASSY NEW DELHI PRIORITY 1032 RUEHFR/AMEMBASSY PARIS PRIORITY 4821 RUEHNT/AMEMBASSY TASHKENT PRIORITY 3209 RUEHKP/AMCONSUL KARACHI PRIORITY 6162 RUEHLH/AMCONSUL LAHORE PRIORITY 2439 RUEHPW/AMCONSUL PESHAWAR PRIORITY 0793 RUMICEA/USCENTCOM INTEL CEN MACDILL AFB FL PRIORITY RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY RUEHNO/USMISSION USNATO PRIORITY 2390 RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC PRIORITY RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC PRIORITY RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY"    "S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 03 ISLAMABAD 002401

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SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 05/29/2017 TAGS: ASEC, KDEM, PGOV, PHUM, PK, PREL, PINS SUBJECT: UPDATE ON MUSHARRAF'S POLITICAL SITUATION

Classified By: Charge Peter Bodde 1.5 (b), (d).

1. (SBU) Frequently Asked Questions about President Musharraf's current political problems.

2. (C) Q: Is Musharraf in as much trouble as some Western journalists indicate? A: No, but he is not as strong politically as he was four or five months ago. 2007 is an election year in Pakistan, and the Pakistani press and Musharraf's political opponents are beating him up pretty soundly. Ironically, the political atmosphere is an indicator of how much Pakistan has changed since 1999. The press is very free and seemingly ubiquitous. Freedom of protest and assembly is relatively unhindered. The parliamentary opposition and the high courts operate robustly. As in many democracies, the incumbent bears the brunt of all this freedom.

3. (C) Q: So what is the opposition complaining about, exactly? A: Musharraf's “leadership crisis” (his advisors' term) has three major components:

--The people around him admit the government handled the reference against the Chief Justice badly. Musharraf underestimated the will of the legal community and other judges to fight what they viewed as executive interference into judicial prerogatives such as disciplining their own members. Additionally, the government -- especially the police -- badly handled the first few days of protests during the Chief Justice controversy. Since then, officials have learned to allow the protests to move forward peacefully and not to interfere with journalists. May 31 stories in the international press about plans to curb protests appear baseless (septel).

--The May 11-14 violence in Karachi damaged Musharraf's reputation. His attempts to assign blame for the fighting on political parties other than coalition partner MQM backfired, as even his own supporters acknowledge that the MQM precipitated violence. Attempting to blame the Chief Justice for the May 12 deaths has rung particularly hollow with the public.

--Civilian deaths in Afghanistan hurt Musharraf's standing with the more conservative sections of society and with those opinion makers who believe the U.S. should withdraw from the country.

--While the controversy surrounding the Red Mosque and its adjoining women's seminary is a sexy story that Pakistani and Western reporters love to report, it has not reverberated broadly in Pakistan. Most Pakistanis do not accept the teachings of the Red Mosque, but they also would oppose police action against a madrassa full of girls. Thus, the status quo of seemingly perpetual negotiations between mosque leaders and government officials is acceptable to the public.

4. (C) Q: Should we worry about serious reactions to the “crisis”? A: Embassy contacts inside and outside the military do not believe a coup is likely. Indeed, it is striking how few rumblings of “possible military action” there have been in recent months. Given Pakistan's history of martial takeovers, coup rumors normally are a staple of Pakistani political life, but not during this crisis. More importantly, we have not met a Pakistan Military officer who has not extolled to us the need for credible elections this fall and a smooth transition to civilian rule at some point. Some officers have quietly begun adding their voices to the many retired military officials who frequently call on President Musharraf to remove his uniform and transition to a civilian Presidency. Our Pakistan Army contacts tell us they believe Pakistan needs a smooth transition to civilian rule to build the government's credibility with Pakistanis and with the international community.

5. (C) Q: Will Musharraf declare a state of emergency? A: Pakistan Muslim League (PML) President Chaudhry Shujaat and National Security Advisor Tariq Aziz tell us the President has analyzed different types of emergencies he could declare constitutionally. According to Shujaat, legal options range from a three month suspension of habeas corpus and right of assembly to a one year emergency that would result in a postponement of all elections. Contacts tell us that, after the April 28 suicide bombing in Charsadda that injured Interior Minister Sherpao and his son, some PML officials encouraged Musharraf to declare a three month limited emergency so that the government could round up terrorists without having to deal with the religious parties' demonstrating against the arrests. (Note: Such an emergency also would have ended the lawyers' protests against the government's handling of the Chief Justice's suspension -- a bonus for the PML. End Note.) The President ignored the advice, but he could return to the possibility in the future. Shujaat tells us the President has already decided that any state of emergency would have to be short enough to allow elections to proceed as required constitutionally. The President himself has told us that the only way he would consider a one year state of emergency would be if the U.S. attacked Iran. (Such an attack would potentially destabilize the Pakistani street.)

6. (C) Q: So the elections will take place as planned? A: The best prediction is still that the Presidential election will occur in October and the parliamentary election in December. Some of Musharraf's advisors would like to move the parliamentary election earlier, in part so it would occur before the public's perception of the PML deteriorates any further. Various Western NGOs tell us the earliest the election commission could be ready, though, is October.

7. (S) Q: And the nuclear arsenal? A: The arsenal is under the control of some of the most impressive officers in the Pakistan Military. No matter what civilian government might come to power in the next year, we do not see the military's control of the arsenal changing. We continue to engage regularly with Pakistan on the security, accountability and control of sensitive nuclear materials.

8. (C) Q: Should the U.S. be doing anything on the “leadership crisis?” A: Our private (very private) comments so far have focused on a few key points, which probably bear repeating:

--The openness of Pakistani society has improved markedly in recent years. President Musharraf has created a formidable legacy of a free press and strengthening civil society. The international community increasingly holds Pakistan to very high standards of press freedom and human rights. As the election year progresses, this scrutiny will increase.

--The decision of many Western news outlets to open bureaus in Islamabad indicates the importance the West places on Pakistan. The presence of so many journalists means that press freedom issues will remain highly reported.

--A credible investigation into the May 12 violence in Karachi would seem to be in keeping with the increasing openness of Pakistani society.

--Credible elections will cement the legacy of this administration. Continued dialogue with the opposition on how to design a framework for such elections is in everyone's mutual interest.

BODDE