Shaken by Benazir Bhutto's assassination in December 2007, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had approached the U.S. for advice and technical expertise to ensure his own security.

The request was made about seven weeks before the February 2008 general election ordered by President Pervez Musharraf. Mr. Sharif's appeal came at a juncture when several conspiracy theories were in circulation on Benazir's violent death, including suspicion that elements within the establishment were part of the plot.

Besides the general fears triggered by Benazir's murder, Mr. Sharif had another reason to be worried. The Sharif clan, which went into exile in December 2000 under a pact with General Musharraf, had chosen to return to Pakistan in November 2007 against the wishes of his hosts in Riyadh and the Pakistani government.

Mr. Sharif's decision to knock on the U.S. government's doors for advice on his security and safety, and that of his brother and former Chief Minister of Punjab Shabaz Sharif, also reflected lack of faith and confidence among sections of the political elite in Pakistan in the military in general and the local agencies in particular.

It is not unusual for the Pakistani elite to seek help from the U.S. government either directly through its Mission in Islamabad or other consulates. Conversations between Pakistani politicians and U.S. diplomats are replete with references on how effective such intervention had proved to be.

U.S. response

In response to Mr. Sharif's request, U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Anne W. Patterson agreed to send the Embassy's Regional Security Officer (RSO) to Lahore on January 3, 2008 to advise Mr. Sharif's security team. RSOs attached to American Missions are responsible for providing physical, procedural, and personnel security to U.S. diplomatic facilities and personnel. In this instance, it is not known whether the U.S. Mission informed the Pakistan government of Mr. Sharif's plea.

A U.S. cable of January 2, 2008 accessed by TheHindu through WikiLeaks, shows that Mr. Sharif's move followed earlier indications that the Sharif clan was increasingly concerned about their own security in the wake of Benazir's assassination (136099: confidential).

“Nawaz Sharif's office contacted CG Lahore January 2 to request consultations on security for Nawaz and Shahbaz Sharif. They did not request USG assistance in providing security but wanted to discuss with our RSO what equipment and technical experts they should employ. Ambassador will send Embassy RSO to Lahore January 3 to provide Nawaz's security team with our advice,” it noted. The Pakistan Cables are being shared by The Hindu with NDTV in India and Dawn in Pakistan