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Friendless and forsaken, Pakistan looks for lobbyists

Pakistan has decided to reverse an earlier decision and hire lobbyists once again to help it dig itself out of the deep hole it finds itself in the US, friendless and abandoned as a “duplicitous” ally that cannot be trusted.

India's Pakistan offensive Updated: Oct 07, 2016 23:15 IST
Yashwant Raj
Pakistan lobbying in US
President Barack Obama meets with Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington on October 22, 2015. (AP File)

Pakistan has decided to reverse an earlier decision and hire lobbyists once again to help it dig itself out of the deep hole it finds itself in the US, friendless and abandoned as a “duplicitous” ally that cannot be trusted.

The “top leadership” in Islamabad was going through a shortlist of 10-12 applications from “top lobbying firms” that had shown an interest, according to a diplomat who spoke on condition of anonymity, adding that a decision was likely soon.

Pakistan’s relations with the US have been on a free fall in recent years, with feelings bordering on hostility on Capitol Hill — where many lawmakers have used the word “duplicitous” and killed an F-16 fighter jet deal — as well as in the administration and among experts of Washington’s influential think-tanks.

And the ongoing visit of special envoys sent by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to present Pakistan’s case on Kashmir and India was not going too well either, with no meetings scheduled at the White House or on the Hill, with lawmakers away.

After firing Locke Lord Strategies, its lobbying firm, in 2013, the Pakistani embassy here had soldiered on using its own diplomats to do the work of lobbyists. But clearly, that did not work out as well as the government would have wanted.

In fact, Michael Krepon, a long time Pakistan watcher at the think tank Stimson Center, argued Pakistan needs more than a lobbyist now.

“What it needs to do is acknowledge reality, change course with respect to violent extremist groups that take safe haven in Pakistan…That will help Pakistan more than a lobbying firm.”

Pakistan believes it can do with all the help it can get. Locke Lord is believed to have played an instrumental role in the passage of the $7.5-billion aid package by congress in 2009, or so it claimed, according to reports.

Locke Lord also helped Pakistan deal with — or tried given the enormity of the challenge — the sense of shock and betrayal felt by Americans over the discovery and killing of Osama bin Laden in a hideout not far from Islamabad in 2011.

The firm was fired in 2013, a diplomat said, “because of a combination of over-confidence — its diplomats can handle it by themselves — and a desire to save money.”

As a major recipient of aid, how could it be seen spending so much on lobbying?

Lorde Lock cost Pakistan $760,000 in 2013, according to the senate lobbying disclosure database. India paid its lobbyist, BGR Government Strategies, $720,000 the same year, and every year since.

But costs may have been just one of the factors for Pakistan.

Mark Siegel, a partner at Locke Lord, told The Hill, a news publication, at the time his firm was fired, “It is traditional when there is a change in democratic government for a newly appointed ambassador to select his own team of consultants.”

Siegel has been called a personal friend of the Bhuttos and his firm was hired after Asif Ali Zardari became president in 2008.

His party lost the next election and Nawaz Sharif became prime minister in 2013, and Locke Lord was fired shortly thereafter.