US embassy cable - 98ISLAMABAD3858

BENAZIR PROMISES MODERATION ON NUCLEAR TESTING

Identifier: 98ISLAMABAD3858
Wikileaks: View 98ISLAMABAD3858 at Wikileaks.org
Origin: Embassy Islamabad
Created: 1998-05-26 13:14:00
Classification: CONFIDENTIAL
Tags: PGOV PREL MNUC IN PK
Redacted: This cable was not redacted by Wikileaks.
P 261314Z MAY 98
FM AMEMBASSY ISLAMABAD
TO SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 6898
INFO AMCONSUL KARACHI 
AMCONSUL PESHAWAR 
AMCONSUL MUMBAI 
AMEMBASSY NEW DELHI 
AMEMBASSY LONDON 
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 ISLAMABAD 003858 
 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 5/25/08 
TAGS: PGOV, PREL, MNUC, IN, PK 
SUBJECT: BENAZIR PROMISES MODERATION ON NUCLEAR TESTING 
 
REF: LAHORE 310 
 
CLASSIFIED BY LAHORE PRINCIPAL OFFICER GEOFFREY R. PYATT, REASON 
1.5 (D) 
 
THIS IS LAHORE 315 
 
1. (C) SUMMARY: MEETING MAY 25 WITH PRINCIPAL OFFICER, FORMER PRIME 
MINISTER BENAZIR BHUTTO SAID SHE WOULD NO LONGER PRESS THE 
GOVERNMENT TO TEST ITS NUCLEAR CAPABILITY.  THERE MAY HAVE BEEN A 
TIME FOR A DETONATION, BENAZIR ARGUED, BUT AT THIS STAGE A TEST 
WOULD BE COUNTER TO PAKISTAN'S INTERESTS.  INSTEAD, SHE SAID, THE 
PPP WILL REDIRECT ITS CRITICISM OF NAWAZ SHARIF TO FOCUS ON THE 
GOVERNMENT'S "INDECISION" AND "MISMANAGEMENT."  BENAZIR ARGUED THAT 
MAY 11 WAS A TURNING POINT IN PAKISTAN'S HISTORY WHICH REQUIRES A 
FUNDAMENTAL RETHINKING OF THE COUNTRY'S SECURITY STRATEGY.  SHE 
PREDICTED THAT NAWAZ MAY HAVE TO BE "SACRIFICED" IN ORDER TO HEAL 
THE WOUNDED PRIDE OF PAKISTAN'S MILITARY.  PRINCIPAL OFFICER 
CAUTIONED THAT BENAZIR'S BELLICOSE REACTION TO INDIA'S TESTS HAD 
DRAWN HARSH CRITICISM IN THE WEST AND SUGGESTED THAT THE PPP STATE 
PUBLICLY THAT TESTING IS TOO IMPORTANT TO BE USED AS A POLITICAL 
FOOTBALL.  BENAZIR DISAVOWED HER WIDELY-REPRINTED OP-ED CALLING FOR 
A PREEMPTIVE MILITARY STRIKE ON INDIA, CLAIMING THAT SHE INVOKED 
THIS POSSIBILITY ONLY TO ILLUSTRATE THE RANGE OF OPTIONS AVAILABLE 
-- NOT AS A RECOMMENDATION FOR ACTION.  ASKED ABOUT NEXT STEPS IN 
THE INDO-PAK DIALOGUE, SHE RECOMMENDED A COOLING-OFF PERIOD 
FOLLOWED BY NEGOTIATIONS TO RATIFY THE CURRENT DIVISION OF KASHMIR. 
END SUMMARY. 
 
2. (C) PRINCIPAL OFFICER MET MAY 25 AT HER REQUEST WITH FORMER 
PRIME MINISTER BENAZIR BHUTTO, WHO WAS IN LAHORE FOR AN APPEARANCE 
BEFORE THE HIGH COURT'S ACCOUNTABILITY BENCH.  SHE WAS JOINED BY 
PPP PROVINCIAL PRESIDENT RAO SIKANDER IQBAL AND COMMUNICATIONS 
DIRECTOR QASIM ZIA.  THIS MEETING FOLLOWED SEVERAL CONVERSATIONS IN 
WHICH PPP LEADERS HAVE CLAIMED TO HAVE ACCEPTED OUR ARGUMENTS IN 
FAVOR OF RESTRAINT (REFTEL) AND TO HAVE CONVINCED BENAZIR TO SOFTEN 
HER RHETORIC.  SENATE OPPOSITION LEADER AITZAZ AHSAN WENT SO FAR AS 
TO CLAIM ON MAY 24 THAT BENAZIR HAD "TAKEN A U-TURN" AND OPENLY 
OPPOSED NUCLEAR TESTING IN RECENT PPP LEADERSHIP MEETINGS. 
 
BACK FROM THE BRINK 
------------------- 
 
3. (C) ASKED ABOUT PRESS REPORTS THAT SHE HAD URGED NATION-WIDE 
DEMONSTRATIONS IN FAVOR OF TESTING, BENAZIR CLAIMED THAT NO ONE IN 
THE PPP WOULD CALL FOR TESTING FROM NOW ON.  THE MOMENT HAS PASSED. 
WE UNDERSTAND THAT A TEST NOW WOULD HAVE A DISASTROUS IMPACT ON 
PAKISTAN'S ECONOMY AND INTERNATIONAL REPUTATION.  I CANNOT SAY 
THESE THINGS PUBLICLY, BENAZIR SAID, BUT NEITHER WILL I CALL FOR A 
DETONATION.  AT THE OPPOSITION'S MAY 21 HYDERABAD RALLY, SHE NOTED, 
THE LINES THAT GOT THE MOST APPLAUSE WERE NOT TAHIR-UL-QADRI'S CALL 
FOR NUCLEAR TESTING, BUT HER OWN ATTACKS ON NAWAZ SHARIF'S ECONOMIC 
LEADERSHIP AND MANHOOD.  WHEN PRESSED ON THE PPP'S POSTURE, BENAZIR 
CONCEDED THAT EVEN IF SHE WANTED TO MAKE A PUBLIC STATEMENT AGAINST 
TESTING SHE COULD NOT, SINCE THIS WOULD BE ATTACKED BY OTHER 
MEMBERS OF THE OPPOSITION ALLIANCE.  WE WERE DRIVEN INTO THIS 
ALLIANCE BECAUSE THE GOVERNMENT REFUSED TO DEAL WITH US A 
LEGITIMATE OPPOSITION IN PARLIAMENT -- SO NOW WE MUST LIVE WITH THE 
CONSEQUENCES. 
 
4. (C) MAY 11 WAS A TURNING POINT IN PAKISTAN'S HISTORY, BENAZIR 
SAID.  WE HAVE TO RETHINK HOW WE DEFINE OUR SECURITY AND HOW WE 
LOOK AT INDIA.  ACCORDING TO MY SOURCES, BENAZIR CONTINUED, THE 
MILITARY LEADERSHIP UNDERSTANDS THESE CHANGED CIRCUMSTANCES AND IS 
IN NO HURRY TO TEST A NUCLEAR DEVICE.  HOWEVER, AT LOWER LEVELS OF 
THE MILITARY THERE IS A FEELING OF WOUNDED PRIDE SIMILAR TO 
SENTIMENTS AFTER THE 1971 LOSS OF BANGLADESH.  "I'M AFRAID NAWAZ 
MAY EVENTUALLY HAVE TO BE SACRIFICED TO HEAL THAT SENSE OF SHAME," 
BENAZIR ADDED, "BUT IT'S HARD TO IMAGINE WHO MIGHT TAKE HIS PLACE." 
 
5. (C) EVEN IF I AM NOT CALLING FOR A NUCLEAR TEST, BENAZIR 
SUGGESTED, NAWAZ SHARIF WILL REMAIN VULNERABLE TO CRITICISMS OF HIS 
INDECISION IN THE FACE OF INDIA'S AGGRESSION.  "NAWAZ IS TRYING TO 
PUT HANDCUFFS ON ME," BENAZIR QUIPPED, "BUT I'M GOING TO PUT 
BANGLES ON HIM." (NOTE: BY SUGGESTING THAT NAWAZ WEARS BANGLES, AS 
SHE DID IN HYDERABAD, BENAZIR IS QUESTIONING HIS MASCULINITY -- A 
DEEP INSULT IN THIS SOCIETY.) 
 
SHIFTING THE DEBATE 
------------------- 
 
6. (C) IF THE PPP HAS DECIDED NUCLEAR TESTING WOULD BE AGAINST THE 
COUNTRY'S BEST INTERESTS, PRINCIPAL OFFICER SUGGESTED, THEN IT 
WOULD BE HELPFUL TO MAKE THIS POINT PUBLICLY.  SO FAR IN THIS 
DEBATE, THE OPPOSITION HAS APPEARED TO BE MOTIVATED MORE BY 
POLITICS THAN BY NATIONAL INTERESTS.  AT THE VERY LEAST, THE PPP 
SHOULD SIGNAL TO THE GOVERNMENT THAT THE PARTY HAS DECIDED THIS 
ISSUE IS TOO IMPORTANT TO BE TREATED AS A POLITICAL FOOTBALL. 
BENAZIR WAS INTRIGUED BY THIS SUGGESTION AND INSTRUCTED HER 
COLLEAGUES TO FOLLOW-UP. 
 
7. (C) PRINCIPAL OFFICER ALSO QUESTIONED BENAZIR ON HER MAY 17 LOS 
ANGELES TIMES OP-ED, WHICH CONCLUDED BY DANGLING THE POSSIBILITY OF 
A PREEMPTIVE STRIKE ON INDIA IN RESPONSE TO THE TESTS.  BENAZIR 
DISAVOWED THIS INTERPRETATION, CLAIMING THE PIECE WAS DRAFTED TO 
ILLUSTRATE POSSIBLE RESPONSES, NOT AS A PRESCRIPTION FOR ACTION. 
ACTUALLY, BENAZIR SAID, THE IDEA CAME FROM ROBERT MCNAMARA, WHO 
SUGGESTED WHEN I WAS IN LONDON THAT A PREEMPTIVE STRIKE WOULD BE 
ONE OPTION UNDER CONSIDERATION IF THE UNITED STATES WAS FACED WITH 
A SIMILAR THREAT. 
 
8. (C) ASKED ABOUT NEXT STEPS IN THE INDO-PAK DIALOGUE, BENAZIR 
SUGGESTED THERE WOULD HAVE TO BE A COOLING OFF PERIOD OF SEVERAL 
MONTHS, AFTER WHICH NEGOTIATIONS COULD BEGIN TO MAKE THE LINE OF 
CONTROL A PERMANENT BORDER.  GIVEN THE NEW STRATEGIC REALITIES, 
DIVIDING KASHMIR WOULD SEEM TO BE THE ONLY OPTION.  SHE ASSUMED 
THAT WESTERN SUPPORT FOR PAKISTAN'S NUCLEAR RESTRAINT WOULD 
EVENTUALLY BE FOLLOWED BY PRESSURE TO COME CLEAN AND ADHERE TO THE 
CTBT AND NPT.  PRINCIPAL OFFICER REPLIED THAT DECISIONS ON NATIONAL 
SECURITY WILL HAVE TO BE ANSWERED BY THE PAKISTANIS, NOT BY OUTSIDE 
POWERS.  WE HOPE THE DEBATE OVER PAKISTAN'S SECURITY WILL INCLUDE 
THE WIDEST POSSIBLE SWATH OF POLITICAL OPINION, BUT THAT DEPENDS ON 
A MORE CIVILIZED DIALOGUE BETWEEN THE PML AND PPP. 
 
9 COMMENT: BENAZIR REMAINS FIRMLY FOCUSED ON THE GOAL OF DRIVING 
NAWAZ SHARIF FROM OFFICE, AND IT WOULD BE OUT OF CHARACTER FOR HER 
TO PASS UP AN OPPORTUNITY TO EAT AWAY AT HIS PUBLIC BASE.  HOWEVER, 
UNLIKE MOST IN THE OPPOSITION, SHE UNDERSTANDS THE LASTING DAMAGE 
THAT WOULD BE DONE BY A NUCLEAR TEST, AND APPEARS GENUINE IN HER 
VIEW THAT PAKISTAN SHOULD NOT NOW TEST.  CRITICISM FROM HER MORE 
COURAGEOUS PARTY COLLEAGUES AND ADVISERS IN THE U.S. MAY ALSO HAVE 
HELPED TO MODERATE HER OPINION.  THIS SHIFT MAY BUY THE GOVERNMENT 
A LITTLE MANEUVERING ROOM, BUT NOT MUCH.  INDEED, BENAZIR'S NEW 
TACTIC OF QUESTIONING NAWAZ' MANHOOD MAY PROVE A POWERFUL CATALYST 
TOWARDS THE NUCLEAR TEST THAT SHE NOW CLAIMS TO OPPOSE. 
 
 
SIMONS 

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