US embassy cable - 98ISLAMABAD3918

POLITICAL OPPOSITION FLAYS NAWAZ FOR DELAYING RESPONSE TO INDIAN NUCLEAR CHALLENGE

Identifier: 98ISLAMABAD3918
Wikileaks: View 98ISLAMABAD3918 at Wikileaks.org
Origin: Embassy Islamabad
Created: 1998-05-28 07:32:00
Classification: CONFIDENTIAL
Tags: PREL PARM MNUC PK
Redacted: This cable was not redacted by Wikileaks.
O 280732Z MAY 98
FM AMEMBASSY ISLAMABAD
TO SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 6955
INFO AMEMBASSY NEW DELHI IMMEDIATE 
USMISSION USUN NEW YORK IMMEDIATE 
AMEMBASSY MOSCOW 
AMEMBASSY BEIJING 
AMEMBASSY PARIS 
AMEMBASSY LONDON 
AMEMBASSY BONN 
AMEMBASSY CANBERRA 
AMCONSUL KARACHI 
AMCONSUL PESHAWAR 
USMISSION USVIENNA
USMISSION GENEVA 
AMEMBASSY OSLO 
AMEMBASSY BRUSSELS 
AMCONSUL MUMBAI 
AMCONSUL CHENNAI 
AMEMBASSY THE HAGUE 
USCINCCENT MACDILL AFB FL//POLAD//
USCINCPAC HONOLULU HI
SECDEF WASHINGTON DC
NSC WASHDC
USIA WASHDC 8560
AMCONSUL LAHORE
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 ISLAMABAD 003918 
 
 
CENTCOM/CINCPAC ALSO FOR POLAD 
LONDON FOR POL/TUELLER 
USIA FOR NEA - LARSEN 
 
E.O. 12958:  DECL:  05/28/03 
TAGS:  PREL, PARM, MNUC, PK 
SUBJ:  POLITICAL OPPOSITION FLAYS NAWAZ FOR DELAYING RESPONSE TO 
      INDIAN NUCLEAR CHALLENGE 
 
REF:  (A)  ISLAMABAD 3588;  (B)  ISLAMABAD 3827; (C)  ISLAMABAD 3858 (LAHORE 315) 
 
(U)  CLASSIFIED BY ACTING POLCOUNS DAN MOZENA.  REASON:  1.5(D). 
 
1.  (C)  SUMMARY:  THE PRIME MINISTER'S OPPONENTS SEE NAWAZ 
SHARIF'S HESITATION IN RESPONDING TO THE INDIAN NUCLEAR CHALLENGE 
AS A GOOD OPPORTUNITY TO ADVANCE THEIR OWN POLITICAL AGENDAS. 
PAKISTAN PEOPLE'S PARTY (PPP) LEADER BENAZIR BHUTTO HAS CALLED FOR 
NAWAZ'S RESIGNATION AND THE FORMATION OF A "NATIONAL GOVERNMENT." 
THE OPPOSITION COALITION PAKISTANI AWAMI ITTEHAD (PAI) -- OF WHICH 
THE PPP IS THE LARGEST ELEMENT -- HAS DEMANDED THAT PAKISTAN 
CONDUCT A NUCLEAR TEST.  THE ISLAMIC PARTIES (NOT PART OF THE PAI) 
ARE THREATENING TO TAKE TO THE STREETS IF THE GOVERNMENT FAILS TO 
CARRY OUT A NUCLEAR TEST BY MAY 30.  IN PRIVATE, HOWEVER, BENAZIR 
HERSELF (REF C) AS WELL AS THE PPP'S SPOKESMAN AND ONE OF THE 
PARTY'S SENATORS SEPARATELY TOLD US THEY FEEL THE TIME IS PAST FOR 
A NUCLEAR TEST IN RESPONSE TO INDIA'S MAY 11 AND 13 BLASTS. 
DESPITE OPPOSITION ATTEMPTS TO DEPICT HIM AS WEAK AND INDECISIVE, 
A RECENT GALLUP POLL GIVES NAWAZ A 77 PERCENT APPROVAL RATING ON 
HIS HANDLING OF THE NUCLEAR CRISIS.  END SUMMARY. 
 
PPP SPOKESMAN SEES INDIAN TEST AS "GODSEND" 
------------------------------------------- 
 
2.  (C)  PAKISTAN PEOPLE'S PARTY (PPP) SPOKESMAN FARHATULLAH BABAR 
TOLD POLOFF MAY 26 THAT INDIA'S NUCLEAR TESTS ON MAY 11 AND MAY 13 
WERE A "GODSEND" FOR HIS PARTY'S EFFORTS TO SHAKE NAWAZ SHARIF'S 
HOLD ON POWER.  BABAR SAID THE OPPORTUNITY TO RESPOND TO INDIA'S 
NUCLEAR TESTS IN KIND HAS NOW BEEN LOST AND IT WAS IMPERATIVE THAT 
PAKISTAN REASSERT ITS DETERMINATION TO RETAIN ITS NUCLEAR OPTION 
(WITHOUT CONDUCTING A TEST) AND THAT THE NAWAZ SHARIF GOVERNMENT 
STEP DOWN AND MAKE WAY FOR A "NATIONAL GOVERNMENT" THAT COULD 
EFFECTIVELY CONFRONT THE INDIAN MENACE.  FOLLOWING A SIMILAR LINE, 
PPP SENATOR RAZA RABBANI TOLD POLOFF MAY 26 THAT THE TIME FOR 
PAKISTAN TO RESPOND TO INDIA'S TEST WITH A TEST OF ITS OWN WOULD 
HAVE BEEN WITHIN 48 TO 72 HOURS AFTER THE INDIAN TESTS.  NOW, HE 
SAID, THE GOVERNMENT HAS DEMONSTRATED ITS WEAKNESS AND INDECISION 
AND SHOULD STEP ASIDE IN FAVOR OF A NATIONAL GOVERNMENT. 
 
3.  (U)  THE PPP, THE PAI, AND BHUTTO HERSELF HAVE BEEN SENDING 
MIXED SIGNALS ON THE ISSUE OF A NUCLEAR TEST.  ON MAY 25 BHUTTO 
TOLD LAHORE PO THAT SHE HAS DROPPED HER CALL FOR PAKISTAN TO 
CONDUCT ITS OWN NUCLEAR TEST (REF C).  BUT ON MAY 27, THE PRESS 
QUOTES HER AS SAYING THAT "A NUCLEAR TEST BY PAKISTAN IS NECESSARY 
TO KEEP INDIA AT BAY AND TO REVITALIZE THE STRUGGLE IN KASHMIR." 
FOLLOWING HER MEETING WITH FOREIGN MINISTER GOHAR AYUB ON MAY 22, 
BENAZIR SAID SHE WOULD SUPPORT THE PRESENT GOVERNMENT IN THE EVENT 
OF AN ARMED CONFRONTATION WITH INDIA, BUT THEN REPEATED HER CALL 
FOR THE FORMATION OF A NATIONAL GOVERNMENT.  IN LAHORE ON MAY 24, 
THE PAKISTAN AWAMI ITTEHAD -- OF WHICH THE PPP IS THE LARGEST 
COMPONENT -- CALLED FOR THE GOVERNMENT TO RESPOND TO INDIA'S 
NUCLEAR CHALLENGE BY TESTING A PAKISTANI BOMB, OR TO RESIGN.  THE 
PAI MEETING IN LAHORE WAS ATTENDED BY REPRESENTATIVES FROM 41 
POLITICAL PARTIES IN PAKISTAN (MOST OF WHICH HAVE NO ELECTORAL 
WEIGHT); MINISTER FOR TOURISM SHEIKH RASHID AHMAD ATTENDED TO MAKE 
THE GOVERNMENT'S CASE.  AFTER DENOUNCING THE GOVERNMENT FOR ITS 
WEAK RESPONSE TO THE INDIAN CHALLENGE, BENAZIR BHUTTO ACCUSED NAWAZ 
ET AL OF SPENDING THEIR TIME LOOKING FOR WAYS TO VICTIMIZE HER AND 
HER FAMILY RATHER THAN DEALING WITH THE COUNTRY'S GRAVE SECURITY 
SITUATION.  MAY 28 PRESS ACCOUNTS REPORT THAT PAI PRESIDENT 
PROFESSOR TAHIRUL QADRI HAS SUPPORTED THE MAY 30 DEADLINE FOR A 
NUCLEAR TEST SET BY THE ISLAMIST PARTIES (SEE BELOW). 
 
ISLAMIC PARTIES DEMAND NUCLEAR TEST 
----------------------------------- 
 
4.  (U)  ALL OF THE MAJOR ISLAMIC PARTIES, INCLUDING THE JAMAAT-I- 
ISLAMI (JI) LED BY QAZI HUSSAIN AHMAD, THE JAMIAT-UL-ULEMAI ISLAM 
(F)(JUI-F), LED BY MAULANA FAZAL-UR-REHMAN, AND THE FACTION OF THE 
JAMIAT ULEMA E-PAKISTAN (JUP-N) LED BY MAULANA SHAH AHMED NOORANI 
HAVE PUBLICLY CALLED FOR A PAKISTANI NUCLEAR TEST.  REFLECTING 
PERHAPS THE LACK OF PUBLIC DIRECT INVOLVEMENT IN THE ISSUE, 
HOWEVER, THE JI'S CALL FOR A NATIONAL STRIKE ON MAY 22 TO PROTEST 
THE FAILURE TO CONDUCT A TEST WAS LARGELY IGNORED BY SHOPKEEPERS. 
VARIOUS OTHER PARTIES HAVE CALLED FOR A NATIONWIDE PROTEST CAMPAIGN 
IF A TEST DOES NOT TAKE PLACE BY MAY 30.  IRONICALLY, IN 
AFGHANISTAN THE TALIBAN GOVERNMENT, WHICH RECEIVES SUPPORT FROM THE 
JI AND THE JUI-F, HAS ENDORSED PAKISTAN'S RIGHT TO CONDUCT A 
NUCLEAR TEST, WHILE CALLING UPON IT TO EXERCISE RESTRAINT. 
MEANWHILE, THE LEADER OF THE PML/N'S COALITION PARTNER, THE SHIIA 
TEHRIK-E-JAFRIA PAKISTAN (TJP), ALLAMA SAJJID ALI NAQVI, HAS URGED 
NAWAZ TO REJECT AMERICAN HELP AND TO GO AHEAD WITH A NUCLEAR TEST. 
IN A REPORT APPEARING IN THE MAY 23 ISSUE OF "THE MUSLIM," NAQVI IS 
SAID TO BELIEVE THAT PAKISTAN SHOULD NOT MOVE TOWARD THE U.S. AS 
THIS COULD ENDANGER ITS RELATIONS WITH ITS "TRADITIONAL ALLIES IRAN 
AND CHINA." 
 
DIFFERENCES OVER TACTICS, NOT POLICY 
------------------------------------ 
 
5.  (C)  BHUTTO'S CRITICISMS OF THE SHARIF GOVERNMENT HAVE BEEN 
DIRECTED MORE AT ITS TACTICS IN DEALING WITH THE INDIAN THREAT THAN 
AT ITS POLICY.  HER PUBLIC STATEMENTS WERE ECHOED BY BABAR IN HIS 
CONVERSATION WITH POLOFF MAY 26.  THE PPP'S LINE APPEARS TO BE THAT 
IF BENAZIR HAD BEEN PRIME MINISTER, THE INDIANS WOULD HAVE BEEN 
LESS LIKELY TO TEST NUCLEAR WEAPONS IN THE FIRST PLACE.  (BABAR, 
FOR INSTANCE, CREDITED BENAZIR'S PREEMPTIVE DIPLOMACY IN 1995 WITH 
HEADING OFF AN INDIAN TEST AT THAT TIME.)  SPEAKING AT THE MAY 24 
PAI MEETING IN LAHORE, BENAZIR SAID NAWAZ SHARIF'S "GOOD MAN 
GUJRAL" LINE LAST YEAR HAD BROUGHT PAKISTAN TO "THE BRINK OF 
DISASTER."  ONCE INDIA DETONATED ITS BOMBS, BENAZIR (AND BABAR) 
SAID SHARIF SHOULD HAVE TAKEN VIGOROUS ACTION TO LINE-UP 
INTERNATIONAL SUPPORT FOR PAKISTAN AND CONDEMNATION OF INDIA. 
BABAR TOLD POLOFF THAT SHARIF HIMSELF SHOULD HAVE GONE TO CHINA 
IMMEDIATELY AFTER THE INDIAN TESTS TO SEEK SUPPORT RATHER THAN 
SENDING A "LOW-LEVEL" CAREER DIPLOMAT LIKE FOREIGN SECRETARY 
SHAMSHAD AHMED.  SHARIF HAD ALSO FAILED TO RALLY THE MUSLIM WORLD 
TO PAKISTAN'S SIDE, BABAR SAID, AND HE CLAIMED THAT BENAZIR WOULD 
HAVE BEEN FAR MORE SUCCESSFUL THAN NAWAZ IN WINNING WESTERN 
SUPPORT.  MEANWHILE, BENAZIR IS CLAIMING CREDIT FOR PAKISTAN'S 
CAPABILITY OF READYING FOR A TEST IN TWO WEEKS; SHE SAID EARLIER 
PAKISTAN HAD REQUIRED 30 DAYS TO READY FOR A TEST, BUT SHE HAD CUT 
THAT BACK. 
 
6.  (C)  SURPRISINGLY, NEITHER BABAR NOR BENAZIR HERSELF HAS WARNED 
NAWAZ AGAINST POSSIBLE U.S. ATTEMPTS TO INDUCE RESTRAINT ON NUCLEAR 
TESTING BY PROMISES OF AID.  THE ISLAMIC PARTIES AND MOST OF THE 
MAJOR URDU AND ENGLISH-LANGUAGE NEWSPAPERS HAVE CAUTIONED NAWAZ TO 
BEWARE OF AMERICAN BLANDISHMENTS.  BENAZIR AND THE PPP, HOWEVER, 
SEEM WILLING TO WAIT AND SEE WHAT THE U.S. WILL DO IN RETURN FOR 
PAKISTANI RESTRAINT. 
 
7.  (C)  COMMENT:  POLITICAL OPPORTUNISM -- NOT CONCERNS FOR WHAT 
IS BEST FOR PAKISTAN -- SEEMS TO BE THE DRIVING FORCE BEHIND THE 
OPPOSITION'S UNRELENTING ATTACKS ON THE PRIME MINISTER.  THE 
OPPOSITION HAS BEEN IN OVERDRIVE DEPICTING NAWAZ AS INDECISIVE AND 
WEAK, GIVING HIM NO CREDIT FOR TAKING TIME TO WEIGH CAREFULLY THE 
IMPLICATIONS OF PAKISTAN'S CONDUCTING (OR NOT CONDUCTING) A NUCLEAR 
TEST.  THE OPPOSITION'S SUCCESS IN TURNING THE PUBLIC AGAINST 
CONTINUED RESTRAINT REMAINS AN OPEN QUESTION.  A JUST-RELEASED 
GALLUP POLL, FOR EXAMPLE, REPORTS THAT OVER TWO-THIRDS OF 
RESPONDENTS FAVORED A PAK NUCLEAR TEST, BUT "IN RESPONSE TO 
FRIENDLY ADVICE" TO EXERCISE RESTRAINT, NEARLY 60 PERCENT OF 
RESPONDENTS SAID THEY WOULD THEN FAVOR CONTINUED RESTRAINT.  77 
PERCENT WERE "SATISFIED" WITH HOW NAWAZ SHARIF HAS HANDLED THE 
SITUATION.  (SEPTEL PROVIDES MORE DETAILED ASSESSMENT OF THE POLL.) 
 
 
SIMONS 

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