Despite deteriorating relations, Pakistani lobby grows in D.C.

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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The Pakistan lobby in Washington is trying to expand as the relationship between the U.S. and Pakistan deteriorates.

The leading Pakistani advocate in D.C. is Mark Siegel, at Locke Lord Bissell & Liddell LLP. He’s working alongside teams led by former Republican Rep. Vin Weber at Clark & Weinstock, and the PR experts at k-global, which is a subsidiary of National Strategies, a D.C.-based consulting firm. They’ve replaced a 2010 suite of lobbyists who are no longer working for Pakistani causes.

Paul Johnson, k-global’s CEO and a former vice chairman at Fleishman-Hillard, did not respond to inquires from TheDC.

Following the Abbottabad raid that successfully killed Osama bin Laden at his hideout deep inside Pakistan, “both sides have to reconstruct [U.S.-Pakistan] relations again,” said Shafqat Tanweer, who heads the New York-based Committee Supporting Democracy and Justice in Pakistan, and the U.S.-branch of the Pakistan People’s Party, which is run by the country’s president, Asif Ali Zardari.

Tanweer’s committee works with many groups of Pakistani-Americans who meet with U.S. legislators in D.C. and their home offices, he said. The groups — which reflect the bitter class and religious divisions within Pakistan — include the Association of Pakistani Physicians of America, the Pakistani-America Congress, and the Islamic Circle of North America, a controversial Muslim fundamentalist group.

Pakistani-Americans, Tanweer said, are concentrated in New York, Chicago and in Houston, which also contains the district of Democratic Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee, the co-chair of the congressional Pakistan Caucus. The other co-chair is Republican Rep. Dan Burton, who chairs the Pakistan-related Eurasia panel at the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. Both Burton and Jackson-Lee have received thousands of dollars from Pakistani-American advocacy groups, including the Pakistani Leadership Action Center.

The difficulty of the Pakistanis’ PR task is demonstrated by Taha Gaya, the director of the D.C.-based Pakistani American Leadership Center. The “concept that Osama bin Laden was hiding in plain sight was completely fictional,” he told TheDC. The American government “knew of the compound since August of 2010, and after eight months, while the compound was subjected to intensive security surveillance by the [intelligence agencies] President Obama said there was only a 55 percent chance that OBL was the individual in the compound,” he said.

Leon Panetta, the CIA chief, told Time magazine that the U.S. did not warn the Pakistani government because they feared bin Laden would be alerted to the impending raid.

The gulf in attitudes between the U.S. public and Pakistan public was shown in a new poll of 2,530 Pakistanis conducted by a Gallup affiliate. The results showed that 51 percent of respondents described their reaction to bin Laden’s death as “sad,” and 11 percent said they were “happy.” Also, 44 percent described bin Laden as a “shaheed,” or a jihadi martyr, while 28 percent described him as an “outlaw.” The population of Pakistan is 187 million, according to the CIA Factbook.

To spur Pakistani cooperation, U.S. officials have used media to highlight possible collusion between jihadis and Pakistani officials. “I think it’s inconceivable that bin Laden did not have a support system in the country that allowed him to remain there for an extended period of time,” John Brennan, the White House’s homeland security and counter-terrorism chief, said May 2.

Correspondingly, Pakistan is increasing its efforts to sway U.S. audiences with the aid of U.S. based advocates.

Siegel is the most prominent advocate. That’s partly because his affiliation is registered in the federal government’s Foreign Agent Registration Act, alongside many other D.C. lobbyists now working for foreign governments and entities. Siegel “is extremely busy with his clients and does not have the time now to answer all the media requests,” said a statement from Siegel’s chief’s marketing officer, Julie Gilbert. The firm “represented then former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, prior to her assassination… and thereafter, the country of Pakistan and Ms. Bhutto’s husband, President Zardari, in many matters, including  their efforts to establish strong ties with the United States.“

“Locke Lord is continuing to assist President Zardari in his efforts to work with the United  States to combat global terrorism and to establish a more stable and prosperous Pakistan,” said the statement.

In 2010, the Pakistani embassy paid $1.04 million to Siegel’s firm for work performed by six advocates, and another $60,000 to Cassidy Associates for the work of three advocates, according to the D.C.-based Center for Responsive Politics. Cassidy is not doing any work for the embassy in 2011. “The embassy is the main player… as is most cases in Washington,” said one advocate who has worked on Pakistan-U.S. issues. Much of the advocacy is focused on specific legislation, such as aid-programs, he said.

“Due to our financial constraints, the [Pakistani government is] not allowing us to hire more” advocates, embassy spokesman Nadeem Sadiq Hotiana told TheDC.

But the embassy’s work is complemented by the many Pakistani-American groups. “They can play an important role, but often pursue their own agendas,” said a person familiar with Pakistani advocacy campaigns.

The Council on Pakistan Relations has spent $160,000 on advocacy since 2009, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. In February, it hired Weber to replace its 2010 team of advocates, which included Chris Cooper, Shawn Sullivan and Dave Tamasi at Rasky Baerlin Strategic Communications. The council’s chairman is Michigan health-sector executive Mohammad Ashraf Qazi. He and his wife have donated $50,000 to Republican Rep. Eric Cantor, $4,800 to Rep. Dan Burton and $9,600 to Democratic Rep. Chris Van Hollen, who has promoted a Pakistan aid-related bill. Weber’s task is to help build support in D.C. for civilian-aid programs in Pakistan, and to introduce CPR members and officials to Washington insiders.

Tanweer’s committee recently hired National Strategies to perform PR work. TheDC visited the firm’s k-global office at 1919 M Street in D.C., but company officials declined to meet with the TheDC. K-global’s Johnson works on the account with Jeffrey Morris, k-global’s grass-roots director. The committee spent $70,000 on lobbying in 2010, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Davis and Siegel worked for Democrats earlier in their careers. Davis worked for President Bill Clinton, and Siegel worked for President Jimmy Carter, Senator Hubert H. Humphrey, the Democratic National Committee, and New York Rep. Steve Israel.

Morris worked as director of state outreach for the Federal Home Loan Bank Corporation, or Freddie Mac, which helped pump up the property-bubble that burst in 2008. In 2002, he worked for moderate Republican Senator Susan Collins’ campaign, and then worked as her director of constituent services for two years. Johnson has provided services to numerous U.S. and domestic companies, as well as the governments of Turkey, Egypt, and Brazil.

When Tanweer’s committee was formed in 2010, the committee employed Lanny Davis, former-TV reporter Eileen O’Connor, David Ransom, then employed by McDermott Will & Emery, a D.C. law firm.

The estimated 5,000 doctors in the Association of Pakistani Physicians of North America is influential, but they concentrate mostly on health care issues, said Pakistani advocates.

The website for the Pakistani-American Congress presents an anti-Taliban message. The Congress “fully endorses and supports Pakistan Army’s operation against [the Taliban, which is a] serious threat to the existence of Pakistan, therefore, it is imperative that Pakistan Armed Forces flush them out,” says the website.

In contrast, ICNA combines a more ambitious set of religious and political goals. Its internal documents call for the establishment of a global Muslim empire, and endorse Islamist terror groups that attack neighboring India, according to documents gathered by an Islamist-watchdog group, the Investigative Project on Terrorism.

Naeem Baig, ICNA’s press secretary, said the group does not work on political issues directly, but does work with groups such as the Council on American Islamic Relations and the Muslim Public Affairs Council. Those groups do political advocacy, and “we work with them,” he said. CAIR has had ties to Islamist groups in the Arab world, such as Hamas, which regularly attacks Israeli civilians.

Despite its call for peace, ICNA has never organized a demonstration against Muslims’ use of force for religious purposes, or jihad, Baig admitted.

“ICNA is very influential because they deal in a certain range of affairs,” said Gaya, director of the Pakistani-American Leadership Center. He’s in continual contact with members of the Pakistan caucus “particularly now that a lot of questions are being asked,” said Gaya, who also works closely with CAIR, and whose website claims the center “played an instrumental role” in creating the caucus. The caucus has a formal membership of more than 50 legislators, though participation rates cannot be gauged, and the center is planning to bring many Pakistani advocates to the Hill in July.

The Pakistani advocates’ visits with legislators are usually successful, said Tanweer. “We basically explain the situation, and what happens is that they listen carefully, they respond and there’s a mutual understanding,” he said. “Being a Pakistani-American, I know Pakistan cannot really do anything without help from America, and America can’t do anything over there without help from Pakistan, and so there has to be a mutual understanding.”