ID: 91199 12/29/2006 7:07 Embassy Islamabad CONFIDENTIAL ISLAMABAD 022643 SIPDIS E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/28/2016 TAGS: PGOV, KDEM, PK



Classified By: Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker, Reasons 1.4 (b), (d)

1. (U) On 26 December, ruling Pakistan Muslim League (PML) President Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain (Shujatt) and Pakistan People's Party (PPP) Chairperson Benazir Bhutto (BB) spoke for more than 20 minutes at the Dubai wedding of Haji Abdul Razzak Yaqoob's daughter (Yaqoob is the Pakistani founder and chairman of the ARY Group, a Dubai-based holding company). Political spinmasters on both sides were quick to dismiss the meeting as an unscheduled “chance” meeting where, according to PML Secretary General Mushahid Hussain Syed, they “exchanged pleasantries.” Mushahid said that talks between political parties were part of democracy. PPP Information Secretary Sherry Rehman confirmed to the press that a meeting SIPDIS took place but dismissed speculation that the meeting was a prelude to a deal.

2. (C) The meeting had little to do with chance, although few on the PML side were brought into the loop before the event. A PML contact told PolAsst that Shujaat knew Bhutto would be at the wedding before he left, but denied that a deal was imminent. “I am only going to meet her, not marry her!” Shujaat reportedly said. Another contact told us that the meeting had been planned recently on the request of “a few common friends.” Others in the PML top brass were not even aware of Shujaat's trip.

3. (C) Many observers saw the meeting as a step toward the broad progressive political coalition that President Musharraf describes as necessary to achieve his vision of “enlightened moderation.” A media contact suggested that Yaqoob, who has a close history with the PPP and is a “mover and shaker” in Pakistani politics, may be a good PML-PPP mediator as he gets along well with both sides. To a PPP official, the implication of the meeting was clear and, he said, an indication of the sad state of Pakistani politics. “You know what the final outcome will be? A president in uniform with a PPP prime minister leading a coalition government,” he said. (Comment: You heard it here first, folks. End Comment.) The official added that others in the PPP are already reaching out to the PML and the military establishment to form a “government of national consensus.”

4. (C) Comment: The “chance” wedding conversation was the first time Shujaat and BB have seen each other since at least 1999, when BB left Pakistan in self-imposed exile, and signals an opening of the lines of communication on multiple levels. It was Shujaat's father, after all, who was a political prisoner under BB's father's rule, and Shujaat's father who handed Zia ul-Haq the pen to sign BB's father's death warrant. Pakistani politics makes strange bedfellows, however, and this is not the first time bitter personal and political enemies have found ways to talk to one another when they see it in their best interest. A 20-minute conversation at a wedding could not have covered any of the important questions of a possible agreement (Will PPP be willing to work in a coalition with a military government? Will President Musharraf allow Bhutto to return to contest elections and, possibly, become Pakistan's next Prime Minister?), but the meeting is another sign that the PML and PPP are willing to discuss entwining their political futures (reftel) and explore what they may be willing to sacrifice to do so. Shujaat's outreach make sense politically, especially given the intense media speculation that a PML-PPP deal is afoot, but any vows that may be forthcoming from the top may not be celebrated by those in the trenches who think that the PML can beat the PPP without a pre-poll deal. End Comment.