|08ISLAMABAD900||2008-02-29 14:28:00||CONFIDENTIAL||Embassy Islamabad|
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C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 ISLAMABAD 000900
1. (C) Summary: This is one of several profiles on politicians who may be major players in the new Pakistani government. Ahmed Mukhtar, a crony of Pakistan People's Party (PPP) Co-Chair Asif Zardari, emerged this week in the press as an another possible candidate for PPP Prime Minister. End summary.
The Short List
2. (SBU) Local papers February 28 featured for the first time Ahmed Mukhtar as a contender to become Pakistan's next prime minister. Mukhtar's intra-party stock has risen in the last two weeks after he defeated ruling Pakistan Muslim League (PML) President Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain in his home district of Gujrat. However, Mukhtar last held party leadership positions in the 1990s as PPP Secretary General (1998-1999)
and Commerce Minister (1993-1996). Meeting with PolOff February 29, Mukhtar stressed that, beyond these brief stints, he has been a life-long PPP adherent.
3. (C) Mukhtar was proud of his time in prison, 2002-2003, 12 months of which were served together with PPP Co-Chair Asif Zardari in a Karachi jail. When asked about the charges, he offered only: ""They (Musharraf's government) claimed I approved a rice export deal while I was Commerce Minister, which was beyond my authority."" (see bio notes, below)
Mukhtar's Own Short List
4. (C) When asked about his apparent addition to the PM short list, Mukhtar denied that he forwarded his own name saying, ""Any of us could... and should want to be... prime minister.""
He admitted that he would very much like the position, if chosen, though he ""preferred"" to become President or Petroleum Minister.
5. (C) Mukhtar asserted that Zardari, not the PPP's Central Executive Committee or the PPP parliamentary caucus, would decide the premiership. Asked about Zardari's plans, Mukhtar became annoyed, insisting that Zardari had repeatedly stated his dis-interest in becoming prime minister himself, and may not even run in the April by-elections. He predicted the National Assembly would be called into session by March 5; therefore, Zardari's decision on prime minister would not have to be made until March 10, Mukhtar calculated.
6. (C) Asked about the PPP's agenda in the coming government, as well as his own priorities if he were selected prime minister, Mukhtar stated that the legislature would immediately have the GOP ""apologize"" for the killing of PPP founder Zulfikhar Ali Bhutto and would reform the local police and mayoral system instituted under Musharraf.
7. (C) Asked about restoration versus independence of the judiciary, Mukhtar said that judges deposed on November 3, 2007, should be returned to the bench. Former Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhary should not be re-seated, however, and could be part of the quid-pro-quo with Musharraf, Mukhtar stated. The issue of the judiciary, he said, would be immediately referred to a parliamentary committee and would be resolved within a month or two. Asked if the lawyers' movement would march or the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) would bolt from the coalition if the judiciary were not restored in such short a time, Mukhtar shrugged, saying both groups had just as much to lose as the PPP if there were demonstrations.
8. (C) Mukhtar predicted the quick demise of Musharraf and his party. He predict that 30 of 42 members of Musharraf's PML party in the Assembly would likely jump ship, mainly for the PML-N. Citing reports that PML senators had formed a forward block so they could vote against Musharraf, he said this called into question Musharraf's control of the upper house. Neither the PML nor the Army took orders from Musharraf anymore, Mukhtar claimed. If the PPP-led coalition commanded a super-majority in the parliament, ""Why shouldn't Musharraf be impeached?""
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Additional Bio Info
9. (C) Mukhtar is viewed as a hawk within PPP circles and would like the party to seek retribution against the Chaudhrys of Gujrat, his primary political opponents, and to a lesser extent, against President Musharraf. He actively opposes any political dealings with the PML as long as the Chaudhrys are members of the party. He has fought Shujaat in the same Gujrat constituency since 1990, intermittently winning and losing. He defeated Shujaat in the February 18 race.
10. (C) Muktar's relationship with Zardari goes back to their time together as cabinet colleagues from 1993-97. He reportedly lives off his family businesses and belongs to one of Pakistan's 40 richest families. He has been dubbed Pakistan's ""shoe magnate"" because of his association with the Servis Group, one of the biggest footwear manufacturers in Asia.
11. (C) Mukhtar is rumored to have gifted Zardari significant amounts of money and is believed to have been involved in a number of corruption cases from which both derived profits. Mukhtar was jailed a total of 18 months (12 with Zardari) in May 2002 on two corruption charges. He was acquitted by the Sindh High Court in one case in November 2003 and by a Lahore Accountability Court in the other in 2007.
12. (SBU) Born on June 22, 1946, Mukhtar earned a masters degree in operational management from Northrop University in 1974. He is married, with one son and two daughters. The older daughter is an American citizen and lives in the U.S.; the younger daughter recently received a masters degree from LUMS University in Lahore. The son runs a textile factory in Muridke, Punjab.
13. (C) Comment: Zardari's distrust of the leading PPP PM contended Amin Faheem continues to feed speculation about alternatives. Some have suggested that Mukhtar could be a placeholder until Zardari himself runs in a by-election and qualifies to be PM. Faheem's rivals are working overtime to press their own candidacies and may have thrown Mukhtar's name out there to keep the pressure on Faheem. Or Zardari could want a dependable crony in the PM's chair. End comment.