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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09ISLAMABAD1364 2009-06-20 16:04 2010-11-30 21:09 SECRET Embassy Islamabad
DE RUEHIL #1364/01 1711606
O 201606Z JUN 09


EO 12958 DECL: 06/19/2019 

Classified By: Anne W. Patterson for reasons 1.4 (b,d)

1. (C) Summary: Embassy Islamabad warmly welcomes your visit. Your arrival comes at a moment when Pakistan’s political leaders, and its people, are united in support of the military campaign to confront extremist militants in Malakand (including the Swat valley) and South Waziristan, where the offensive has just begun. Popular support for the offensive is broad but thin. Pakistan’s military has begun its assault in South Waziristan with the goal of capturing or eliminating taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud, whose prominence among Pakistani extremist groups has risen during the last two years. After losing strength in his spring match-off with opposition leader (and former Prime Minister) Nawaz Sharif, President Zardari has regained much of his political capital by garnering national support for the military campaign.

2. (C) The USG is providing the lion’s share of international humanitarian assistance being provided to the internally displaced who fled the taliban and the military offensives in Malakand. Some eighty percent of the displaced are staying with relatives or in rented accommodations. The GOP and international humanitarian assistance organizations have so far been able to manage provision of assistance to the roughly two million IDPs. The GOP would like the IDPs to return as areas are cleared. But the longer term challenge of building a capable civilian police force and a robust economy mirrors the needs spread across the nation. The campaign in South Waziristan will play out differently; we expect fewer IDPs, more casualties, and less access for the international humanitarian assistance organizations.

3. (C) In the longer term, the GOP is confronted with a weak economy and a lack of government authority (or government provided security) in much of the country apart of the Punjab. We are planning how to spend USG funds to support Pakistan’s civilian institutions, bolster budgetary support, strengthen the military’s COIN capabilities, build the capacity of the police, and target impoverished areas where youth are susceptible to militancy and extremism.

4. (C) Pakistan is digging its way out of an economic crisis that came to a head in the fall of 2008, caused by poor policy choices which were compounded by the global economic crisis and high international commodity prices. To set the stage for longer-term prosperity, the government must undertake difficult structural reforms such as eliminating subsidies (electricity, wheat) and broadening tax base.

5. (C) Nuclear cooperation on security issues has decreased after wstatements made in the press about purported U.S. plans to seize nuclear facilities surfaced. Despite Zardari’s own inclination to improve relations with India, his need to keep the military on his side (and/or his perceived rebuke from Indian PM Singh in Russia) have kept him from agreeing to meet again with Singh in Egypt. While we grant large amount of aid to Pakistan and its military, even with the arrival to office of the well-perceived President Obama, America is viewed with some suspicion by the majority of Pakistan’s people and its institutions. End Summary.

Domestic Politics
6. (C) The government headed by President Asif Zardari and Prime Minister Yousaf Gilani, elected in 2008 after eight years of military rule, is stable. The Pakistani People’s Party (PPP) and its coalition allies rule in three of the four provinces. Nawaz Sharif is by far the most popular politician in Pakistan (with an 83 percent approval rating compared to Zardari’s 20 percent in the latest IRI poll), but he does not have the votes to bring down the government.

7. (C) Zardari signed Shari’a law in Swat, which precipitated the taliban’s emboldened attempt to dominate Swat and bordering areas. He also overplayed his hand when Nawaz and Shahbaz were declared ineligible by the Court. This exposed him to the force of Nawaz’ ability to bring the populace into the street during the (lawyer’s) “long march.” Having managed to stay in office by restoring the Chief Justice and maintain civil order during that period, Zardari has recovered through his so far successful (if not robust) management of relations with the Pakistan Military and by
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piggy-backing on the popular support for the military’s offensive against the taliban.

8. (C) While Nawaz is preparing for the next election and appealing directly to the street, a court case considering voiding past convictions against him is winding its way through the Supreme Court. Even though Zardari retains the Presidency, Nawaz can be seen as the real winner of the “long march” stand-off: he demonstrated his popular support; stood firm in his demands; saw the Supreme Court leadership reinstated; and, affirmed his right to run in the next election. During the events leading up to the “long march” there was talk that the Army might feel compelled to step in.  Chief of Army Staff General Kayani is determined that a civilian government succeed, however, and while he mistrusts Zardari he despises Nawaz.

9. (C) While far from perfect, you will find Zardari is pro-American, anti-extremist and eager to be seen as working with the USG. Zardari runs the show on the civilian side, although he is not a popular leader and admits himself that he came to high office without previous direct experience as an elected politician. Secular and westernized, Zardari sees himself as viewing the world the way Americans do; this same image works against him with the public.

10. (S) Zardari is less likely to make public announcements chastising the USG for its policies in, and toward Pakistan (including on USG drone activity) than other senior GOP officials. His public (and private) lament is that Pakistan has the will to combat terrorism, but the USG has been miserly in providing resources. In his own fashion, this is Zardari’s version of the widely held view that Pakistan has made great sacrifices at the behest of America, for little return and less recognition.

11. (C) Prime Minister Gilani has shown strong leadership skills in building Parliamentary coalitions at times of national crisis and in the absence of public leadership by President Zardari. Gilani has stiched together all party Parliamentary sessions that have forged cross-party unity on the need to tackle terrorism and to endorse the military offensives against Pakistani extremists (often referred to as “miscreants”). He gave the impassioned address to the public May 7 asking the Pakistani people to support military action in Swat and surrounding agrees; a defining moment that marked the beginning of the sea change in public attitudes toward the taliban and granted legitimacy to the military’s actions.

12. (C) Gilani was also instrumental in bringing the “long march” crisis to a peaceful resolution, and was the senior GOP official (not Zardari) who announced the reinstatement of the Supreme Court Justice. Like Foreign Minister Qureshi, Gilani comes from the religiously important Multan and is a Sufi saint. His English is somewhat halting and conversation with him can be opaque. He pays great attention to protocol and is an attentive listener, however, when he believes he is being treated as a friend and equal. Reports of Zardari/Gilani tensions are probably exaggerated.

Economic and Structural Challenges
13. (C) Pakistan is digging its way out of an economic crisis that came to a head in the fall of 2008, caused by poor policy choices which were compounded by the global economic crisis and high international commodity prices. The government sought relief from the International Monetary Fund, and signed a $7.6 billion agreement with them in November 2008. Under the terms of this agreement, the GOP has curtailed borrowing from the central bank and greatly cut back its expenditures, bringing its fiscal deficit down from over 7 percent of GDP to 3.4 percent. The market has responded to these reforms, and foreign exchange reserves, which had fallen to dangerously low levels, have rebounded and the value of the rupee has stabilized.

14. (C) However, to set the stage for longer-term prosperity, the government must undertake more difficult structural reforms such as eliminating unaffordable subsidies (electricity, wheat) and broadening its tax base. The belt-tightening of the past eight months has caused growth to
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slow, however, and it is estimated to be 2 percent for the current fiscal year, down from original predictions of 4.5 percent. The challenge in the coming year will be to stimulate the economy while maintaining a level of fiscal discipline. The situation is complicated by the financial burden of caring for large numbers of internally displaced persons and by the need to significantly step up civilian law enforcement personnel, especially in NWFP, FATA, but also around the country. The GOP is heavily dependent on donor assistance to pay for its development and humanitarian assistance budget, at least for the foreseeable future.

The Swat Military Campaign and IDPS
15. (C) The military’s effective campaign against taliban in Bajaur last fall was limited in geographical scope. Rumors that taliban leaders were sitting in Swat festered, and the government entered into a series of ill-advised and half-hearted negotiations with extremist leaders residing in the region. These resulted in Zardari’s eventual signing of the Nazm-e-Adl regulation in April, which the government sold as meeting the local population’s demand for “speedy justice.” Politicians were at pains to explain that Swat, as a princely state, had an historically different history and custom and that the deal did not mark an abdication of government authority or an open door to harsh (by Pakistani standards) interpretation of Shari’a law. The wide-spread release of a video showing taliban flogging a young woman in a public square brought doubts about taliban intent home to the public.

16. (S) Zardari, meanwhile, argued privately that he had to sign the deal in order that the GOP be seen to have been willing to try everything before turning the military against its own people. The shocking flogging video circulated at the same time as suicide bombers and terrorist gunmen took on targets including police stations and main boulevard checkpoints in Lahore and Islamabad. In the rural areas, they blew up Mosques and shrines. Public opinion about the taliban, that it was part of the social fabric of parts of the country and if left unperturbed would not damage public life, started to shift. Once the taliban moved out of Swat, where extremists had overrun the streets and beheaded well-known journalists, the view that the Nazm-e-Adl deal had been breached by the taliban grew. PM Gilani gathered cross-party support in Parliament and appealed to the public to support a military campaign in Swat.

17. (C) After military operations started in May in Swat and neighboring areas, some two million Pakistani citizens moved out of the area and became internally displaced. (The wealthier families of Swat departed a year earlier as taliban violence against the feudal elite and the threat of it forced them to retreat to Islamabad and elsewhere.) Senior GOP officials would be the first to say that it was the hospitality of the Pakistani people which kept the IDPs clothed, fed and sheltered in the first instance. Best estimates are that 80 percent of the displaced have been taken in by Pakistanis, not necessarily relatives. NGOs and the UN are serving the population not in camps. A combination of military-run, community volunteer, and UN agency directed camps are sheltering the other IDPs.

18. (C) We have reports of some IDPs returning, including several hundred thousand in Bajaur and up to half the populations in parts of Buner; families traveling with livestock can be witnessed returning to the Swat area via roads leaving Islamabad. However, we do not have hard figures on returns: lack of security, and families’ desire to receive the GOP return fund of USD 312 are two of the reasons IDPs have yet to return. Operations in Malakand, though ongoing in some areas, are said to be in the “mopping-up phase” (even as officials acknowledge that sporadic “spot” fighting is likely to continue for another six months.)

19. (C) All of the big international humanitarian organizations are present in Pakistan. Like our own approach to staffing the Consulate, even the recent terror attacks in Peshawar (in which UN officials were killed) have not dissuaded them. Most humanitarian organizations have withdrawn their international staff to Islamabad; leaving
ISLAMABAD 00001364 004.2 OF 006
local staff to implement programs at the camps and in communities. Security continues to be an issue, even in areas the Army has declared “cleared.”

Economic Recovery Key
20. (C) The USG and the GOP are in agreement that the key to maintaining security (and keeping extremists from reemerging) is in economic recovery and improving civilian authority -- not least in law enforcement. Prime Minister Gilani calls this the “hearts and minds” campaign necessary to maintain the gains won by the military campaign and to maintain popular support for those campaigns. The GOP is confronted with a weak economy and a lack of government authority (or government provided security) in much of the country outside of the Punjab, and even in the south of the prosperous Punjab we have seen an increasing trend to extremism among youth.

21. (C) We are planning how to spend USG funds to support Pakistan’s civilian institutions, bolster budgetary support, strengthen the military’s COIN capabilities, build the capacity of the police, and target impoverished areas where the youth are susceptible to militancy and extremism. What the GOP calls “hearts and minds” we see as part of our broader objective of helping the GOP build an effective COIN capability and policy by using USG resources where the GOP is particularly exposed. The GOP will need to focus on recovery, rehabilitation, and reconstruction if it is to hold its recent gains. Establishing (or reestablishing long-languishing) government authority and services poses one of the greatest challenges to the GOP. Economic development is the key to Pakistan’s success in implementing a broad-ranging counterinsurgency policy.

22. (S) Pakistan’s military has begun its assault in South Waziristan with the goal of capturing or eliminating taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud, whose prominence among Pakistani extremist groups has risen during the last two years. We expect the military campaign in Waziristan to be tougher than in Swat, with the military willing to use air power to an extent it was not in the “settled areas.” The military strategy is three pronged: isolate Baitullah by putting intense pressure on the Mehsud tribe; incite inter-tribal violence (the leader of the Bhittani tribe has already come out publicly against Baitullah); make deals with other militants to refrain from supporting Baitullah against the GOP. We have some indications that the separation of Mehsud tribe peoples is already underway.

23. (S) The 2007-2008 blockade of the Mehsud area, which was initially quite severe, produced approximately 200,000 IDPs. However, we expect the attack from the military to be more fearsome by an order of magnitudes; meaning much higher casualty rates and less access for the humanitarian relief agencies. Some “shaping operations” designed to contain and weaken Baitullah Mehsud’s sphere of operations were undertaken in advance of the campaign.

24. (C) The GOP is wary of international scrutiny through the United Nations which may embroil it in charges of being in breach of international humanitarian law. The USG has made no judgment on this issue, but the GOP would be well-served by seeking to uphold Geneva Convention standards during the conflict, regardless of its own judgment that the military offensives represent domestic law enforcement activities.

Military Cooperation
25. (S) The campaigns in Malakand (including Swat) and now in Waziristan, have demonstrated Pakistan’s will to fight extremism. Faced with its weaknesses against a formidable enemy, the Frontier Corps has accepted USG training (if on a limited and highly-controlled basis), and that has given us new access and opportunities to improve Pakistani counter-insurgency capability. Pakistan has agreed to build additional tripartite Border Coordination Centers (BCCs), and we have expanded intelligence sharing through the Torkham
ISLAMABAD 00001364 005.2 OF 006
BCC. The military remains reluctant to expand the U.S. military footprint, but we now have the basis for increased cooperation. USG efforts to provide Mi-17 helicopters have meant an exponential increase in the Pakistan Military’s ability to deploy helicopters in its ongoing campaign against extremists.

26. (S) The campaign itself may prove, over time, to be an event that builds trust and increases U.S./Pak military cooperation. Military and civilian authorities underscore, however, that gains made in the campaign will only be supported by the public if they are perceived as having been made by Pakistan alone.

Nuclear Security
27. (S) Since A.Q Khan’s proliferation activities came to light in 2004, Pakistan has sought to rehabilitate its image as a nuclear technology bazaar. The GOP passed laws regulating exports of sensitive technologies and criminalizing proliferation, established an export control mechanism, joined the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism, and strengthened its National Command Authority and security apparatus to govern and protect its nuclear weapons. U.S. support has been instrumental to Pakistan’s improved nonproliferation practices. U.S. experts have trained Pakistani counterparts in a wide variety of topics ranging from technology controls to physical protection, provided critical equipment, and encouraged Pakistan’s adherence to international nonproliferation instruments.

28. (S) Over the last two months, however, local and international media reporting on U.S. and international fears that terrorists would acquire Pakistan’s nuclear weapons has put the GOP on the defensive. These concerns centered on the proximity of some nuclear sites to territory under attack by the taliban, the rumored dispersal of Pakistan’s nuclear assets, and the vulnerability of weapons and nuclear materials in transit. The GOP is particularly neuralgic to suggestions that its nuclear weapons could fall into terrorist hands and to reports of U.S. plans to seize the weapons in case of emergency. As a result, Pakistan has begun to pull back from some nonproliferation engagement with the USG, including refusing high-level discussions and delaying implementation of some programs. One effort to remove jointly spent nuclear fuel from a Pakistani nuclear research reactor, for instance, has been put on hold for 3-4 months, or until such time as the media attention has abated.

29. (C) President Zardari is personally in favor of improving Pakistan’s relations with India, but efforts early in his tenure (including on opening trade between Indian and Pakistan-held Kashmir) were overcome by the Mumbai terror attacks and India’s reaction to what it perceived as Pakistan’s complicity in them and by the Pakistan Military’s lack of approval for such initiatives which Zardari can not take on his own. Zardari is conscious that he must not be perceived as reopening negotiations on Kashmir now if he wants to keep Pakistan’s military focused on the western campaigns -- and not its institutional enemy, India.

30. (C) The June 16 meeting between President Zardari and Indian Prime Minister Singh in Russia was marred by what the Pakistani side viewed as Singh’s “rudeness” in telling the press (in front of Zardari) that he was only charged with speaking to the President about the use of Pakistani soil by terrorists aimed at India. PM Gilani will attend the NAM Summit in Egypt in July, instead of Zardari, thus obviating what the GOP had initially said would be the next opportunity for the leaders to meet. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs suggests that only USG pressure will cause the GOI to reestablish the “Composite Dialogue” -- the bilateral forum meant to develop a series of confidence building measures between the two nations.

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31. (S) While we grant large amounts of aid to Pakistan and its military, even with the arrival to office of the well-perceived President Obama, America is viewed with some suspicion by the majority of Pakistan’s people and its institutions. We are viewed at best as a fickle friend, and at worst as the reason why Pakistan is attacking its own (although this view may be changing as the popular picture of the true nature of the taliban has shifted in the last several months). While the Army remains fixated on India as Pakistan’s mortal enemy, the common man (and most importantly the youth) is just as likely to point to America as the nation which has twisted Pakistan’s collective arm, leaving it weak. Much of the financial support and technical advice we give to the GOP is delivered privately and in a low-key fashion: our goal is to strengthen Pakistani institutions and demonstrable ties to the USG have the opposite effect in the public mind. GOP officials are prickly about issues of sovereignty. They too can’t be seen as reliant on U.S. largess. How to support the civilian government, strengthen its institutions, economy, and military capacity to engage in COIN, without further provoking antagonism toward the U.S., remains a central challenge. PATTERSON