World Neighbours 27 Jun 2016 Pakistan looks for l ...

Pakistan looks for lobbyist in US after recent diplomatic disasters

PTI
Published Jun 27, 2016, 1:30 pm IST
Updated Jun 27, 2016, 1:32 pm IST
The ties between the two countries have plummeted over differences about how to deal with the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Pakistan's main expectation from the firm was to promote its interests on Capitol Hill, where it often has to face angry lawmakers every time an issue related to the country is discussed. (Photo: AP)
 Pakistan's main expectation from the firm was to promote its interests on Capitol Hill, where it often has to face angry lawmakers every time an issue related to the country is discussed. (Photo: AP)

Islamabad: Pakistan is looking for a lobbyist in the US after two recent diplomatic disasters when America refused to subsidise an F-16 deal and openly campaigned to induct India into the NSG, a media report said on Monday.

The ties between the two countries have plummeted over differences about how to deal with the Taliban in Afghanistan and allegation by the US that Pakistan failed to root out militants groups.

 

Nadeem Hotiana, Pakistan Embassy spokesman in Washington, confirmed the country was now looking for a paid lobbyist "but has not yet taken any decision", the Dawn reported.

Earlier, Locke Lord Strategies was hired in 2008 to lobby for Pakistan but Islamabad failed to renew its contract with the firm in July 2013.

The group was hired by government of Pakistan People's Party mainly because one of its partners, Mark Siegel, was a personal friend of the late Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

The embassy was paying USD 75,000 per month to this group, which is the lobbying arm of the law firm Locke Lord, but it failed to improve Pakistan's image.

 

Pakistan's main expectation from the firm was to promote its interests on Capitol Hill, where it often has to face angry lawmakers every time an issue related to the country is discussed. But the firm had little influence on the Hill.

It proved equally ineffective in lobbying the US media for Pakistan. There were occasions when the embassy's press section managed to gather more senior journalists than did the firm for official briefings and for group or individual meetings with visiting Pakistani leaders.

To be fair to Locke Lord, some of the issues it had to deal with during this period (2008-13) were beyond its control. Even the most influential lobbyists would have found it impossible to plead Pakistan's case on the Hill, in media or in Washington’s power corridors after Osama bin Laden’s discovery in Abbottabad, the paper said.

 

Yet, there were other issues on which the firm could do better but it did not. This bitter experience and financial problems forced Pakistan to let its contract with Locke Lord expire. Instead of hiring a new lobbyist, the PML-N government decided to use Pakistani diplomats for the job, it said. Pakistani diplomats did a decent job initially but then ties between the two countries began to deteriorate.

The Obama administration, which was close to completing its final term, wanted some arrangement in Kabul that would allow it to say that it successfully ended America's longest, and the costliest, foreign war.

 

By the time Pakistani officials started publicly acknowledging that they can try but cannot force the Taliban to join the reconciliation process, it was already too late.

Diplomatic observers in Washington say that in these circumstances, even the best lobbyist could only try to improve Pakistan's image, particularly on the Hill, but cannot promise to deliver. "So Pakistan must think carefully before hiring a new lobbyist, as it costs money and a lot of it," said one observer.

The general perception in Washington, particularly on the Hill, was that Pakistan was not sincere to the US. Americans believed that Pakistan feared India's increasing influence in Afghanistan and that's why it was not severing its ties with the so-called good Taliban, particularly the Haqqani network.

 

There was little Pakistani diplomats could do to remove such doubts and suspicions. Only the change that the Americans were demanding could have salvaged the F-16 deal. But diplomats could do little to make it happen.

Even more difficult was to convince Washington not to push for inducting India into the NSG, as this policy was linked to America's own interests: countering the growing

Chinese influence in Asia and the desire to sell US nuclear technology to New Delhi.

In these circumstances, even the best lobbyist cannot promise to deliver.

 

Besides the monthly payment, the lobbyists also charge hefty amounts for their lobbying efforts.

Locke Lord earned about USD 4.5 million while representing Pakistan, according to the US Justice Department records, and takes credit for the passage of the USD 7.5 billion KLB aid package to Pakistan in 2009.

Besides Siegel, Pakistan's lobby team at one point included Harriet Miers, a former White House counsel under President George W Bush.

Several top firms have lobbied for the Pakistani government over the years.

Cassidy & Associates represented Pakistan for a time, but opted out in 2007 after then president Pervez Musharraf declared a state of emergency in the country.

 

Lobbyists say that it is not only the strains in US-Pakistan relations that make it difficult to lobby for Pakistan. They argue that major power players in Pakistan the civilian government, the military and the intelligence are all to be satisfied which is a tough job.

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