Posts Tagged ‘ Carl Levin ’

Pakistan’s Man in Washington

 By Chris Frates for Politico

 As Pakistan’s top Washington lobbyist, it’s Mark Siegel’s job to convince U.S. officials not to take out their anger on the country despite the fact that Osama bin Laden spent at least five years living in relative comfort outside Islamabad.

It’s not an easy sell.

Lawmakers from across the political spectrum wonder aloud how the world’s No. 1 terrorist could be living in plain sight unbeknownst to the Pakistanis. Siegel has to make the pitch that it’s in America’s national security interests to continue its relationship with Pakistan and to keep the billions of dollars in foreign aid flowing.

It’s a message that Siegel’s firm, Locke Lord, is getting paid good money to sell; the firm brings in almost $1 million a year representing Pakistan.

In addition to Siegel, the firm has about half a dozen lobbyists representing the country including Harriet Miers, an aide to former President George W. Bush and a one-time U.S. Supreme Court nominee.

Siegel is uniquely positioned to make the country’s case to skeptics on the Hill. He’s been friends with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari’s family for almost three decades and has a direct line to Islamabad.

“The Pakistanis insist to me that they were not aware that Osama bin Laden was at that venue. The president made that very clear to me,” Siegel told POLITICO after speaking with Zardari this week. “I think if they had known, they would have been happy to nab him themselves.”

His connection to Zardari isn’t lost on those he lobbies, like House Homeland Security Chairman Peter King, who met with Siegel on Tuesday.

“It wasn’t so much what Mark was saying to me on Tuesday, it was what I was saying to him knowing, or feeling confident that it was going to go directly back to the president,” said King (R-N.Y.). “There is a real question of credibility and trust and faith. You can’t have the No. 1 mass murderer of Americans living in plain view in Pakistan all these years while Pakistan is claiming to be our ally and getting $3 billion a year.”

Pakistan, King said, must investigate and credibly explain how bin Laden was able to go undected and demonstrate that its intelligence services and military have not been penetrated by al Qaeda.

“Mark’s basic job is almost to tread water, to keep everything afloat until something can be done,” King said. “I think he’s trying to prevent something from happening too quickly to have the relationship severed. He wants to make sure that he keeps it together and so you can have extensive talks between the two governments.”

But King’s not the only one critical of Pakistan these days.

The Obama administration – which didn’t give its ally a heads up that Americans would be swooping into their country to take out bin Laden for fear of leaks – has been describing the relationship between the two countries with the ambiguous “it’s complicated” tag usually reserved for Facebook profiles.

And Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin told ABC News Thursday that he thinks high-level Pakistani intelligence knew of bin Laden’s whereabouts and he has “no doubt” the country knows the location of other top-level targets.

“None of the people on the Hill are suggesting to me that anybody in the civilian government knew that Osama was there,” Siegel said, drawing a distinction between Zardari and the country’s military and intelligence branches.

Tony Podesta, a lobbyist who represents Egypt, knows something of representing a vilified client that is nevertheless a U.S. military ally in an unstable part of the world.

“You want to take it back to the long term strategic interests of the U.S. and to facts rather than supposition. It makes no long term strategic sense for any kind of reckless decisions to be made at this moment,” Podesta said. “That’s where he’ll leave it.”

Siegel has been friends with Zardari’s family for almost three decades, having met Zardari’s late wife, Benazir Bhutto, in 1984 when a mutual friend asked him to host a dinner party for her. The two would go on to write a book together and when Bhutto became prime minister, Siegel represented her government.

This week, Siegel said he has been reminding lawmakers that Pakistan has been a strong ally and that President Barack Obama and other administration officials have praised the country’s cooperation in fighting al Qaeda and terrorism. Pakistan itself has been a victim of terrorism – 30,000 civilians have been killed by terrorists in the last decade, he added.

Even before this week’s killing of bin Laden, Locke Lord has been active on the Hill. In February and March, firm lobbyists accompanied the Pakistani Ambassador Husain Haqqani on meetings with House Speaker John Boehner, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, and Kay Granger, chairwoman of the House appropriations subcommittee on state-foreign operations.

Last year, the firm successfully lobbied for $1.5 billion in economic and social aid over the next five years — a sum that has to be reauthorized each year. The firm is also lobbying to secure foreign aid and create duty-free “reconstruction opportunity zones” inside Pakistan’s tribal lands and Afghanistan.

Advertisements

Pakistan’s president denies harboring bin Laden

By Nahal Toosi and Zarar Khan for The Associated Press

Pakistan’s leader denied suggestions that his country’s security forces sheltered Osama bin Laden as Britain demanded Tuesday that Islamabad answer for how the al-Qaida chief lived undetected for six years in a large house in a garrison town close to the capital.

But in a nod to the complexities of dealing with a nuclear-armed, unstable country that is crucial to success in the war in neighboring Afghanistan, British Prime Minister David Cameron said having “a massive row” with Islamabad over the issue would not be in Britain’s interest.

A day after U.S. commandos killed bin Laden, reporters were allowed within the 15-foot, barbed-wire-topped walls of the compound for the first time. But the doors of the house were sealed shut and police were in no mood to open them.

Local residents showed off small parts of what appeared to be a U.S. helicopter that Washington said malfunctioned and was disabled by the American strike team as they retreated. A small servant’s room outside the perimeter showed signs of violent entry and had been briskly searched, clothes and bedding tossed to the ground. Its wall clock was on the floor, the time stuck at 2:20, when the U.S. team would have been on the ground in the early hours of Monday.

Asif Ali Zardari’s comments, in a Washington Post opinion piece Monday, were Pakistan’s first formal response to suspicions raised by U.S. officials and others. Those suspicions could further sour relations between Islamabad and its Western backers at a key point in the war in Afghanistan.

Bin Laden was killed close to a military academy in the bustling northwestern town of Abbottabad, not in the remote Afghan border region where intelligence assessments had assumed he had been holed up. That was quickly taken as a sign of possible collusion with the country’s powerful security establishment, which Western officials have long regarded with a measure of suspicion despite several notable al-Qaida arrests in the country since 2001.

“Some in the U.S. press have suggested that Pakistan lacked vitality in its pursuit of terrorism, or worse yet that we were disingenuous and actually protected the terrorists we claimed to be pursuing. Such baseless speculation may make exciting cable news, but it doesn’t reflect fact,” Zardari wrote.

Ties between the two nominal allies were already strained amid U.S. accusations that the Pakistanis are supporting militants in Afghanistan and Pakistani anger over American drone attacks and spy activity on its soil. They came to head in late January after a CIA contractor shot and killed two Pakistan’s, in what Washington said was self-defense.

Senior U.S. officials did not directly accuse Pakistan of collusion, but made it clear they had concerns.

“People have been referring to this as hiding in plain sight,” Obama’s counterterrorism chief John Brennan told reporters Monday. “Clearly, this was something that was considered as a possibility. Pakistan is a large country. We are looking right now at how he was able to hold out there for so long and whether or not there was any type of support system within Pakistan that allowed him to stay there.”

Lawmakers were more direct.

U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin said Pakistan’s intelligence and army have “got a lot of explaining to do,” given that bin Laden was holed up in such a large house with surrounding buildings, the fact that its residents took the unusual step of burning their garbage and avoiding any trash collection.

“It’s hard to imagine that the military or police did not have any ideas what was going on inside of that,” Levin said.

Cameron, who has also made supporting Pakistan a major foreign policy commitment, echoed those concerns.

“Those are questions we have to ask, those are questions we will want answered and we will be asking that question of everyone in Pakistan and the Pakistani government,” Cameron told BBC radio before acknowledging the West’s limited leverage against Islamabad.

“We could go down the route of having some massive argument, massive row with Pakistan, but I assess our relationship with Pakistan and it is my very clear view that it is in out interests to work with the government and people of Pakistan to combat terrorism, combat extremism and help development in that country.”

Suspicions were also aired in many Pakistan’s media and on the street Tuesday.

“That house was obviously a suspicious one,” said Jahangir Khan, who was buying a newspaper in Abbottabad. “Either it was a complete failure of our intelligence agencies or they were involved in this affair.”

Pakistan’s security establishment has yet to explain how bin Laden was able to live there undetected, and given that it is rarely transparent about what it does, it might never do so. Asked about the raid, Pakistani Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir said it was time to move on.

“The issue of Osama bin Laden is history and I think we do now want to keep ourselves mired in the past,” he told reporters.

U.S. officials have said that Pakistani officials were not told about the early morning helicopter raid until the strike team had killed bin Laden had returned to Afghanistan from where they took off from, citing security reasons.

Many Pakistanis were surprised at how this was possible, especially when initial reports stated that the choppers took off from a Pakistani air base. Some were angry that the country’s sovereignty had been violated — an especially sensitive issue given the unpopularity of America here.

Zardari said it “was not a joint operation” — the kind of which has been conducted in the past against lesser terror suspects in Pakistan — but that Pakistani cooperation, in a general sense, had helped lead them to bin Laden.

“A decade of cooperation and partnership between the United States and Pakistan led up to the elimination of Osama bin Laden as a continuing threat to the civilized world,” he said.

President Barack Obama also said the country’s anti-terror alliance had helped in the run-up to the operation, but did not thank Pakistan when he announced the death of bin Laden.

The death has raised fears of revenge attacks, both in Pakistan — which has seen hundreds of suicide attacks by al-Qaida and its allies since 2007 — and internationally. The U.S Embassy said its missions in Pakistan would remain closed to the public until further notice.

%d bloggers like this: