|08ISLAMABAD898||2008-02-29 13:10:00||CONFIDENTIAL||Embassy Islamabad|
1. (C) Summary. Pakistan People's Party (PPP) candidate
for Prime Minister Amin Faheem told Ambassador February 27
that the coalition with Nawaz Sharif remained "very fragile."
In Faheem's view, if Nawaz decides not to join the
coalition, the PPP would be free to approach Musharraf's
party. But he argued for time to conclude negotiations and
predicted there would be a government by the middle of March.
Faheem confirmed ongoing PPP coalition talks with Fazlur
Rehman's religious party and the Muttahida Quami Movement
(MQM) that controls Karachi. If chosen as the PM, Faheem
pledged to sit down with Ambassador to review, issue by
issue, how he could work with the USG on a shared agenda of
fighting terrorism and improving the economy. Rumors
continue to swirl about Zardari's interest in other
candidates, who would be more pliable and have less party
support. End Summary.
2. (C) Ambassador and Polcouns met February 28 with
Pakistan People's Party (PPP) Vice President Amin Faheem.
PPP Senator Enver Baig also attended the meeting.
3. (C) Faheem said he was quietly waiting for the PPP to
name its choice for Prime Minister. He dismissed as "the
usual speculation" reports that others in the party were
vying for the position or that there was growing Sindh-Punjab
animosity within the PPP. Faheem recounted a story in which
Benazir Bhutto in Dubai years ago had told him that if she
could not become PM, then her choice was that Faheem be
named. But Faheem appeared unaware of exactly when the PPP
would actually make a decision, saying that "probably by
March 15 we will know."
4. (C) Several times in the conversation, Faheem assured
Ambassador that he wanted to work hand-in-hand with the U.S.
"Once the announcement about the PM choice is made, I want to
sit down with you and review, issue by issue, how we can work
together," pledged Faheem. He said his top priorities would
be to fight terrorism and improve the economy. Ambassador
said we appreciated Faheem's offer; the Pakistani people had
chosen the PPP to rule, and we wanted to help the PPP govern
5. (C) If he was asked to form a government, Faheem said he
wanted to control the Interior, Foreign Affairs and Finance
portfolios. Baig said that, this time, it would also be
important to control Defense as it was a PPP goal to impose
civilian control over the military. It would be important,
Baig suggested, to choose a civilian acceptable to the
military. Baig noted that the parliament is only allowed to
see a single line item for the military's budget and was
never briefed by Musharraf's government on efforts to fight
6. (C) The PPP's agreement to form a coalition with Nawaz
Sharif, said Faheem, remained "very fragile." Nawaz
continues to insist that he will not join the cabinet, but
Faheem cautioned that this would not be acceptable to the
PPP. "He must come into the government and take
responsibility for our joint decisions," said Faheem. This
may take some more time to work out, he cautioned. Asked
what would happen if Nawaz at the end of the day refused to
join the PPP, Faheem said simply "then we will have tried and
can approach the other (Musharraf's party)." He noted that
this had been Benazir Bhutto's original plan.
7. (C) Differences between Nawaz and the PPP remain,
particularly over the issue of restoring the judiciary and
the impeachment of Musharraf. Faheem confirmed his earlier
view (reftel) that he did not support Musharraf's
impeachment, saying "we must look forward and work on the
real problems of terrorism and the economy." Reiterating
what we have heard from other PPP leaders, Faheem said the
PPP's goal is to refer the judiciary issue to the parliament.
"We do not need discord and unrest; we have convinced the
lawyers' group to back down from a grand march on this issue.
We need time to work through the problem." Faheem said
that, like Bhutto, he did not support restoring the former
Chief Justice to the bench.
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8. (C) Faheem supported the idea of forming a national
unity government and confirmed that the PPP was in
discussions with the Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM) on a
coalition for both the Sindh provincial government and the
national government. Speaking as a Sindhi, Faheem said the
PPP wanted to come to a deal with the MQM for the sake of
peace in the province. "They are giving us all sorts of
conditions now, but MQM wants to be part of the government,
so they will come around" said Faheem.
9. (C) Faheem noted that he and PPP Co-Chair Asif Zardari
met February 27 with Fazlur Rehman, pragmatic leader of the
Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F) religious party. Fazlur, said
Faheem, is ready to work with us and has no preconditions.
(Note: JUI-F won 6 seats in the National Assembly on February
18--a decline from the 34 it won in 2002. Rehman had visions
of being a kingmaker and even prime minister and was poised
to join Musharraf's coalition before the PPP emerged as the
big electoral winner. In the press February 27, Fazlur
switched sides again and called for Musharraf's impeachment.)
10. (C) Comment: Faheem seemed stronger and more focused
than in past meetings. He exuded a quiet confidence and went
out of his way to provide assurances that he and the USG
could work together on a common agenda. Whether he will be
chosen to deliver on that pledge remains to be seen. Rumors
continue to swirl about Zardari's interest in alternative PM