2009-02-27 04:20:00
Consulate Lahore
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O 270420Z FEB 09
S E C R E T LAHORE 000035 

E.O. 12958: DECL: 2/26/2034

Derived from: DSCG 05-1, B,D

S E C R E T LAHORE 000035

E.O. 12958: DECL: 2/26/2034

Derived from: DSCG 05-1, B,D

1. (C) Summary: Protests over the disqualification of Pakistan
Muslim League - Nawaz (PML-N) leader Nawaz Sharif and
invalidation of PML-N President Shahbaz Sharif's election to the
provincial assembly continued for a second day across the
Punjab. Punjab Governor Salman Taseer expressed his serious
concern to Principal Officer in a February 26 meeting that
protests had the potential to lead to serious confrontation with
security forces despite his instructions to the police to avoid
any violence -- an instruction that appears to have largely been
adhered to except in Rawalpindi. Taseer believed that
demonstrations would eventually die down in two or three days.
The Governor anticipated that he would be given the full 60 days
of governor's rule in the province despite pressure from within
his own party and its likely ally the Pakistan Muslim League
(PML) to form a new government as soon as possible. The
Governor stated that his decision to lock the Punjab Assembly
building on the morning of February 26 was a direct result of
the PML-N's "illegal" parliamentary session on the evening of
February 25. The Governor expressed his desire to avoid such
harsh actions, but noted that it would be largely dependent on
the PML-N's conduct and stated that there were those in the
federal government contemplating detention of PML-N leader Nawaz
Sharif, Jamaat-e-Islami President Qazi Hussain Ahmed, and
Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf President Imran Khan -- a decision that
was "out of his hands" and would depend on their conduct. The
Governor was eager to deliver on USG priorities in the initial
meeting, promising immediately to end a local ban on the storage
of NATO containers bound for Afghanistan in the province, to
press for FBI access to detainees who had accepted
responsibility for the Luna Caprese restaurant blast in
Islamabad, to address without delay growing militant recruitment
in southern Punjab, and to take-over the remaining
Jamaat-ud-Dawa affiliated schools in the Punjab. End Summary.

Governor Taseer Takes Over

2. (C) In a February 26 meeting with Principal Officer, Governor
Salman Taseer expressed his deep concern over the possibility of
violence during protests being organized across the province on
Feburary 26 and 27 to protest the disqualification of Nawaz
Sharif and the dismissa
l of former Chief Minister Shahbaz
Sharif. The Governor noted that any violence would be extremely
problematic for the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and hence he
had instructed police to avoid confronting demonstrators or
attempting to disperse them with tear gas, batons, or other
coercive tactics. The Governor admitted that this approach
would likely lead to larger protests, but he felt that if
allowed to run their natural course without any government
confrontation or interference, the protests would conclude by
early next week. In a separate meeting, senior PPP leader
Khwaja Tariq Rahim agreed with the governor's approach, stating
that "the PML-N's best hope was for some deaths during the
protests," as this was the only way that the public would
sustain them for a prolonged period. Rahim worried, however,
that the PML-N could provoke confrontation or that the police
could ignore their orders from the newly appointed Inspector
General of Police and chose to confront the protestors. The
Governor was unconcerned by the lawyer's long march and sit-in
scheduled for March 16, quipping "perhaps I'll schedule Basant
(the annual spring kite festival) for the same day and we'll see
whether the people prefer to march to Islamabad or party in

3. (C) Governor Taseer stated that he believed Qat hQwould be
given the full 60 days of governor's rule originally announced
by President Zardari. Taseer intended to govern during this
period without appointing formal advisors (in order to avoid
controversy over who was appointed to those slots in the party)
and without changing most of the provincial bureaucracy
appointed by Shahbaz Sharif -- save 5 or 6 senior secretaries.
He shared that there were those both within his party and within
its likely ally the PML who wanted to form a new government more
quickly. Taseer stressed that he disagreed with this approach,
claiming that the PPP needed to maintain governor's rule as long
as possible in order to ensure that its policy priorities and
party needs were entrenched before entering into another
coalition government. He held out the possibility that the
National Assembly might be asked to extend governor's rule for
another 60 days after the initial period expired. Taseer denied
that this reluctance had anything to do with difficulties in
obtaining the numbers necessary to elect a new PPP Chief
Minister in the provincial assembly, claiming that with the
disqualification of Nawaz, PML-N Provincial Assembly members
were eager to cross the aisle and join a PPP government. The
Governor was also optimistic that the PML was keen to come back
into power as a coalition partner even if it was denied the
chief ministership -- the party's long-stated demand for joining
with the PPP.

4. (C) Asked about his decision to lock the provincial assembly
on the morning of February 26, Governor Taseer stated that the
PML-N's "illegal" actions had caused him to take the decision.
He stated that the Speaker had no right to call on assembly
session following the imposition of governor's rule, as the
Constitution clearly established that only the Governor had that
right in the absence of a leader of the house -- and then only
to elect a new leader of the house. According to Governor
Taseer, when the PML-N parliamentarians vacated the building
this morning to get breakfast (after having spent the night in
the assembly cafeteria),he quickly seized the opportunity to
lock the building to prevent anymore "extra-constitutional
action" on their part. Governor Taseer noted the public
relations damage that this caused the PPP, but felt that it was
the only way to control actions by the PML-N. Similarly, he
shared that some in Islamabad were considering the detention of
PML-N leader Nawaz Sharif, JI President Qazi Hussain Ahmed, and
PTI President Imran Khan. He agreed that such an action would
provoke the public, but claimed "I'm not in the meetings on
this, and it will depend on how they conduct themselves."

5. (C) Governor Taseer seemed eager to address USG priorities in
his initial meeting with the Principal Officer. The Governor
promised to convey immediately (not later than February 27)
instructions to concerned district officials that NATO supplies
destined for Afghanistan could be stored at the Tarnol truck
terminal in the northern Punjab. District officials had
instructed the NATO contractor to stop using the facility
following controversy in the Provincial Assembly. Former Chief
Minister Shahbaz Sharif had instructed that the storage could
continue on February 22, but district officials negated his
orders following his February 25 removal. Similarly, Governor
Taseer promised to advocate for FBI access to detainees being
held in Rawalpindi who had confessed their involvement in the
2007 bombing of the Luna Caprese restaurant in Islamabad, in
which FBI agents assigned to Embassy Islamabad had been injured.
While the Governor was optimistic that access could be
arranged, he noted that he would need to consult with his close
friend, Federal Interior Advisor Rehman Malik before he could

6. (S) Governor Taseer stated that his highest priorities
included taking over the remaining approximately 70
Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JUD) affiliated madrassas in the Punjab that had
been identified by the Punjab Special Branch for former Chief
Minister Shahbaz Sharif but had been allowed to continue to
operate. Similarly, the Governor promised to shut-down or
takeover madrassas in southern Punjab that had been implicated
in recruiting for the FATA militancy and to shut-down training
camps located in the same region. The Governor shared that
officials of the Inter-Services Intelligence Division (ISI) had
contacted him prior to the imposition of governor's rule to
discuss the issue. He stated that they had offered their full
assistance and cooperation to him in pursuing these policies --
which the Governor had been advocating for some time -- and
merely wished to "be a part of the process." The Governor, who
is generally skeptical of ISI's intentions, stated that he
believed they could be constructive and praised the new Director
of ISI's Internal Division, General Islam (NFI),who he
described as a like-minded, long-time friend. The Governor
stated that he had requested ISI to assign agents to their home
districts in order to improve intelligence collection and that
the ISI had been receptive to this suggestion.

Protests Continue

7. (C) Public protest continued on February 26 throughout the
Punjab with rallies being held in most districts of the
province. Rallies were generally larger than on February 25, a
fact many attributed to the coincidence of these rallies with
the lawyers movement's weekly Thursday protests. Most
businesses and private schools and colleges in the province
reportedly observed the strike called by various bar and
business associations, although government offices, schools, and
the High Courts continued with business as usual for most of the
morning and early afternoon. Demonstrations of over 5000
occurred in Lahore, Faisalabad, Toba Tek Singh, Gujranwala,
Sheikhupura, and Multan. PML-N leader Nawaz Sharif addressed
the Sheikhupura rally, claiming "everyone knows Shahbaz Sharif
is the legal Chief Minister of the Punjab" and stating that his
grievance was not with the PPP as a party but with "one man" --
President Zardari. PML-N activists in the province were joined
at these protests by lawyers, traders, civil society activists,
madrassa students, religious leaders, and activists from the
Jamaat-e-Islami and the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf. Additional
protests are planned for following Friday prayers on February 27.

8. (C) In the provincial capital Lahore, small demonstrations
in various locations throughout the morning and early afternoon
ultimately converged in front of the National Assembly building
at around 3pm. Demonstrations throughout most of the province
remained peaceful and police appeared to adhere to the
Governor's orders to avoid confrontation. Vandalism was
minimal, although tires were again burned and PPP posters with
President Zardari's picture were torn down. The exception to
this trend was in Rawalpindi, where violence ensued when PML-N
and PPP workers clashed following vandalism of PPP offices and
where demonstrators vandalized PML politician Sheikh Rashid's
house. In Bahawalpur, PML-N leaders, while addressing a protest
camp established in front of the residence of one of the judges
who decided the case, vociferously criticized the USG statement
that the court decision was "an internal matter" demanding that
the United States' condemn the action.

Politicians Discuss New Chief Minister

9. (C) According to sources in both parties, discussions on a
new Chief Minister are moving forward between the PPP and the
PML. Chaudhry Fawwad Ahmed, a local lawyer with ties to the PML
and the Governor, stated that the PML is attempting to negotiate
a better deal than President Zardari's initial offer of Speaker
of the National Assembly for Moonis Elahi and the Federal Senate
Chair for an as-yet-udetermined PML candidate. He claimed that
Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi was now demanding the Chief Ministership
for himself. Chaudhry Fawwad stated that President Zardari
would likely try to convince the Chaudhries to accept Salman
Taseer as Chief Minister but argued that the President would
ultimately concede to the PML's demands in order to end the
public relation's problems that a prolonged governor's rule
would cause the PPP. Chaudhry Fawwad also confided that the
Chaudhry's ultimate goal is to enter a governing alliance with
the PPP, thereby weaken the PML-N, and then ultimately negotiate
a PML reunifaction on their terms prior to the next election.

10. (C) Punjab Intelligence Bureau Deputy Director (and
confidante of President Zardari) Riaz Ahmed Sheikh told
Principal Officer that President Zardari was keen to conclude an
early deal with the PML. He stated that the President was
prepared to offer the PML the Governorship for Chaudhry Pervaiz
Elahi, but that the Chief Ministership would need to go to a PPP
candidate. He stated that the PPP was currently considering
four people for the Chief Minister's slot: Governor Salman
Taseer, former Leader of the Opposition in the previous
Provincial Assembly Qasim Zia, PPP Minister for Finance in
Shahbaz Sharif's coalition government Tanveer Ahmad Kaira, and
PPP Senior Minister for Irrigation and Power in Shahbaz Sharif's
coalition government Raja Riaz. Chaudhry Fawwad provided the
identical list in his separate meeting with Principal Officer.
Sheikh stated that Governor Taseer wished to prolong governor's
rule but that President Zardari was inclined to move as rapidly
as possible to convene the Provincial Assembly and elect a new
PPP Chief Minister.


11. (C) The PPP finds itself in a difficult position with public
opinion clearly on the side of the Sharifs, and the PML-N able
to turn out credible demonstrations not only in its strongholds
in urban, central Punjab but also in places such as Multan,
which has generally been perceived as more friendly towards the
PPP. The Governor's strategy to avoid confrontation and hope
for public outrage to abate quickly may be the party's best
available strategy, as the Sharifs, at present, seem in no mood
to compromise with Zardari. Sealing the Provincial Assembly has
fueled suspicions that the PPP intends to govern in a
dictatorial fashion in the Punjab. Any arrests of opposition
political leaders would only serve to increase this perception
and inflame public sentiment. A rapid end to governor's rule
and election of a new Chief Minister may help move things
forward, although whether the PML and PPP can ultimately seal
the necessary compromise deal remains uncertain. End Comment.