Pakistan’s representation on the Hill

Published: February 13, 2014

The writer is an independent journalist, who graduated from the University of Iowa. She is now studying Political Science at University of Texas, USA

Washington, DC — the cornucopia of political games and the hub of world politics — poses charm for power seekers, media, politicians and lobbyists. While I spent quite some time in the Capitol, closely observing these eager beavers in power corridors, I learnt about their roles in changing the course of political events. Also, I was eager to know how Pakistani diplomats and lobbyists create discussions on the floor of Congress to win votes in their favour.

One of the most difficult conundrums for Pakistan on the Hill is its lack of representation. Even though Pakistan’s lobbyists in the past launched an intense campaign on Capitol Hill to foster bilateral relationships, mistrust between the two countries continues to rise. At the time when the mainstream media is so focused on the deteriorating relationship between the United States (US) and Pakistan, lobbyists tend to mend fences on both sides.

Despite the fact that Pakistan’s spending on lobbying is actually low compared with other countries — former Pakistani lobbyists believe that the bilateral relationship is primarily a function of policy than personalities — the Pakistani media indicated that the Pakistan embassy in Washington, DC spends a huge amount of money compared with that spent by the other 121 foreign missions, which the country maintains throughout the world. These media reports lamented that despite spending so much money, relations between the two countries are still in an abyss.

On the other side, the Pakistani community in the US believes that Pakistan has not tapped into grassroots activism as fervently as other countries have done, such as India, Israel and Saudi Arabia. In comparison with the Indian and Israeli diaspora, the Pakistani diaspora voices its support based on party identification with the government in power, much to the detriment of a united Pakistani front. The Pakistani diaspora consists of either the blue-collar working class, or filthy rich businessmen. What is lacking, unlike in the Indian diaspora, is a concrete educated middle class.

Based on my countless interactions with fellow Pakistanis, particularly the educated class, a majority of Pakistanis are cynical about the efforts of Pakistani lobbyists. They believe that despite spending millions on lobbying, Pakistan has not established a positive image in the US. It is a general impression among many Pakistanis residing in the US that lobbyists hired to promote the image of Pakistan have actually been working to promote political personalities, not the country. It is a secret to no one that the lobbying expenses incurred by the Pakistani government were actually used to promote and lobby for former presidents, including President Musharraf and President Zardari during their respective eras. The slogan ‘Pakistan First’ turned into something more like ‘Political Personality First’ when it came to the lobbying for Pakistan on the Hill. Ironically, the poor people of Pakistan pay the price for such personal publicity stunts because all the money is spent from the national exchequer.

Since this is an extremely unusual and difficult lobbying environment for Pakistan, the new Pakistani government has still not decided to give this intriguing and challenging role to any firm yet. This is obviously a low point in bilateral relations, and lobbyists working for Pakistan are encountering unusual questioning and, sometimes, outright hostility when they are on the Hill. The scepticism regarding whether or not Pakistan is a reliable partner colours all other aspects of bilateral relations.

According to some experts associated with lobbying firms, among other challenges, at times of economic stress in the US, foreign aid is generally the ‘lowest hanging fruit’ for congressional cuts. But on top of the economic crunch, the US also has severe political strains.

To convince Congress, the administration and the public that Pakistan is the principal victim of terrorism in the world today, the country will have to create strong diplomatic strategies.

According to former lobbyists, in 2011, the previous Pakistani government spent $900,000 a year on lobbying, which was substantially below the amount spent during the Musharraf era. For example, towards the end of the Musharraf era, Pakistan was spending $1,200,000 on one lobbying firm, and another $100,000 a month on a second firm, totalling $2.5 million.

As I had mentioned at the beginning of this piece, comparatively, Pakistan’s spending on its lobbying is way less than that of other countries. Here are some examples of other countries’ spending on lobbying on Capitol Hill: India spends $1.4 million on lobbying in the US, whereas Israel (AIPAC) is spending almost $3 million for the same purpose. Similarly, the United Arab Emirates spent $10.9 million in 2008 for lobbying in Washington, according to the Sunlight Foundation, a watchdog group. It was followed by Britain, which spent $6.1 million, and Japan, which paid out $4.2 million for lobbying purposes.

I am not suggesting that Pakistan should follow this course, because the country cannot afford to run this marathon. However, at a small fraction of that price, lobbyists might rally persons from the Pakistani-American community and deploy grassroots advocacy in efforts to promote a more nuanced picture of Pakistan in the US.

The Pakistani lobby in conjunction with the Pakistani diaspora should serve as catalysts for the purpose of educating, informing and benefiting the US-Pakistani bilateral relationship. The domestic situation in Pakistan must be strengthened in the form of the state enhancing job security, state security and food security, embedded in economic development, to best improve US-Pakistan bilateral relations.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 14th,  2014.

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Reader Comments (43)

  • Nadir
    Feb 14, 2014 - 12:11AM

    Wow, every article can be made relevant by listing a comparison with India. Can we not set higher standards?

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  • Sexton Blakett
    Feb 14, 2014 - 12:59AM

    I think Lamia Zia is portraying in a convoluted way that the wonderful world of so called Western democracy is open to bribery and politicians can be bought. It is like the old saying, “I can be bought, but I an not cheap”. Although they can be bought Western politicians are not embarrassed about it in the least, and they have the effrontery to do put-downs on alternative forms of government.

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  • Toticalling
    Feb 14, 2014 - 1:20AM

    In good old days we all getting information from papers, now we should know that the world is a village and it is not the lobbyist making the rounds but the image of a country. Here Pakistan lacks the reason to convince Washington. Read any paper, see TV reports and what you get about Pakistan is negative. Girls schools being burned, killing of innocent people is almost daily occurrence, the talk is about security of nuclear sites. Not to forget the persecution of non Muslims and women. You do not an excellent lobbyist, but a miracle maker. And that cannot be bought for any amount.

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  • Mindi
    Feb 14, 2014 - 3:09AM

    How about improving the character of Pakistan first , before trying to portray filth in a better light ?

    Problem with Pakistani educated people , whether they are in the US or in Pakistan they cannot recognize the reality and core causes of their problem in the world , instead they focus on superficial stuff !

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  • gp65
    Feb 14, 2014 - 4:05AM

    “The Pakistani lobby in conjunction with the Pakistani diaspora should serve as catalysts for the purpose of educating, informing and benefiting the US-Pakistani bilateral relationship”.

    You seem to be recommending that Pakistani diaspora actively get involved in improving the US-Pakistani bilateral relationship. That is the exact opposite of what a catalyst does. The catalyst is not an active ingredient in a chemical reaction.

    “For example, towards the end of the Musharraf era, Pakistan was spending $1,200,000 on one lobbying firm, and another $100,000 a month on a second firm, totalling $2.5 million.

    As I had mentioned at the beginning of this piece, comparatively, Pakistan’s spending on its lobbying is way less than that of other countries. Here are some examples of other countries’ spending on lobbying on Capitol Hill: India spends $1.4 million on lobbying in the US”

    So India with a GDP about 9 times that of Pakistan spends less than Pakistan – if you go by Musharraf era spending or just 50% more if you go by PPP’s period – and you think it is Pakistan that is underspending? Strange.

    “The Pakistani diaspora consists of either the blue-collar working class, or filthy rich businessmen. What is lacking, unlike in the Indian diaspora, is a concrete educated middle class”.

    Umm the class that you describe as ‘filthy rich’ has been extremely active in supporting India whether by raising money for charitable projects in India OR even in lobbying for key Indian priorities. Perhaps if you did not hold them in contempt as to describing them as ‘filthy’ rich – perhaps you might get better outcomes? You might also get better outcomes if people in your country do not burn US flags at the drop of a hat.Recommend

  • polpot
    Feb 14, 2014 - 5:06AM

    “Pakistan has not established a positive image in the US. ”
    ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
    Is that surprising? Remember where was OBL found living the last decade of his life?

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  • polpot
    Feb 14, 2014 - 5:09AM

    ” To convince Congress, the administration and the public that Pakistan is the principal victim of terrorism in the world today, the country will have to create strong diplomatic strategies.”
    +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
    Also the country will have to stop supporting state and non state actors in cross border terror activities whether in name of Kashmir or Kabul.
    Ground Reality may be more relevant than diplomatic strategies.!

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  • u
    Feb 14, 2014 - 5:34AM

    @Toticalling:
    Yes, they should cut down on spending on lobbying. It’s a waste of money at this juncture. If you want to spend on foreign affairs spend it instead on improving embassy services especially in the middle east where a majority of our poorest and most vulnerable expatriates are.

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  • ajay gupta
    Feb 14, 2014 - 5:58AM

    Lobbying alone cannot change the image of a country, & of course, as u pointed out, no one lobbies for pakistan, only for the current political master. When indians r successful in all spheres of life in the US, frm preet bharara to satya nadella, the country automatically begins to command attention n clout. India’s thrust on the middle class & its education has horse powererd itsince 1947. Elitism & feudalism in a poor, rabidly religous country never pays any divivends

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  • Feroz
    Feb 14, 2014 - 6:48AM

    Are you canvassing for the post of lobbyist in Washington DC ? Quality of lobbying or advertising can never be independent of the quality of product promoted. I do not envy the job of any lobbyist for Pakistan in DC.

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  • It Is (still) Economy Stupid
    Feb 14, 2014 - 6:58AM

    There are Some Things Money Can’t Buy. For Everything Else, there’s Mastercard. No money can buy soft power. Image of India diaspora is that all of them are scientist or Doctors. Number of Indian companies have invested money in US and hired thousands of people. So Indians create jobs. Pakistanis create job in US Intelligence. Bollywood movies, Software expertise, achievement in technology such as Mars project or Lunar and Indian origin CEO of major US corporations generates soft power.

    Two Nations Theory:The Pakistani diaspora consists of either the blue-collar working class, or filthy rich businessmen. Indian diaspora, is a concrete educated middle class.Recommend

  • Arjun
    Feb 14, 2014 - 7:57AM

    When Osama Bin Laden was living in your country. perhaps the amount of money you spend on lobbying isn’t the problem.

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  • Avtar
    Feb 14, 2014 - 8:02AM

    For any lobbying effort to succeed, spending extra money alone won’t be sufficient. Pakistan has been successful in getting Billions of dollars of aid during Musharaff era for not delivering anything. It only helped enrich the establishment.
    Pakistan needs to have a vision what it wants to be. Right now there is none. And it is not even on anyone’s radar. Current lobbying efforts are to get the funds promised for the ‘transit’ of US goods and military hardware. With widespread sectarianism, Religious extremists wanting to take Pakistan to 7th century, no security for minorities, and so on, how do you expect Pakistani diaspora to form a united front!

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  • Bilal
    Feb 14, 2014 - 8:09AM

    @Nadir:
    India is a higher standard. Let’s achieve that first.

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  • Sonam Shyam
    Feb 14, 2014 - 8:14AM

    Pakistan can spend all the money they have on lobbying for a better image in the US but the damage to its reputation has been almost irreversibly done when Osama was taken out from a safe house in a cantonment in Abbotabad. Pakistanis want America to forget Osama and it wants India to forget 26/11 but they just don’t realise that atonement by the guilty is a prerequisite for healing of wounds. Continued duplicity and doublespeak would never improve Pakistan’s international standing.

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  • unbelievable
    Feb 14, 2014 - 8:33AM

    Does anyone really think that lobbying money would change what America thinks about a country which was caught hiding OBL, providing sanctuary to the Haqqani, cutoff NATO supplies, and even shoots at American’s patrolling the Afghan/Pakistan border?

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  • Yousuf
    Feb 14, 2014 - 8:42AM

    Comparisons in absolute terms are meaningless; one ought to take it as percentage of GDP, as percentage of FX reserves and also – as importantly – as percentage of benefits to the extent it is measurable in terms of incremental trade access and FDI. Otherwise its too simplistic of an analysis.

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  • Hold your horses
    Feb 14, 2014 - 9:37AM

    @Nadir:
    yes, possibly by comparing pakistan with nigeria….

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  • ria
    Feb 14, 2014 - 9:56AM

    so now we have indian diaspora vs pakistan diaspora…… whats with the obsession …. is it with old pakis or young or all… someone??? we are obsessed with this obsession and thats y we r here….

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  • joy
    Feb 14, 2014 - 10:50AM

    @ Nadir: “Wow, every article can be made relevant by listing a comparison with India. Can we not set higher standards?”
    such comments are made when IQ is at its “nadir”
    regards

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  • Tariq Ahmad
    Feb 14, 2014 - 10:54AM

    How can Pakistan have any positive results on Capital Hill, when everyday we hear about killing of woman and children by crazies in Pakistan, the persecution of minorities and espcially christians, no amount of money can change that.

    Only the results of Pakistan Government in enforcing rule of law can fix this. Contrary to the authors assertion, Saudis dont have much of a lobby, if they did, the US would be bombing Syria, Americans are pretty smart, they have figured out that the Wahabis in Saudi are responsible for the craziness in Pakistan and other Islamic countries. Lobbyin can only work if there is something to work with, which in case of Pakistan is missing, it is like having a lobbyist for Jeffrey Dahmer, it wont work

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  • Hassan
    Feb 14, 2014 - 11:12AM

    This was a very interesting article. I had actually been searching for such information. Thank you

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  • Saqib
    Feb 14, 2014 - 11:24AM

    Good analysis. No one can deny importance of lobbying especially in the United States case. However, first we need to put our house in order as day-night world gets bad news, in shape of terrorism, from this land, which diminishes lobbying efforts, if there are any!

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  • Jijaji00
    Feb 14, 2014 - 1:30PM

    @Nadir:
    First get to the Indian standard mate. Its much much higher than pakistan. Realisticlly you should be compare yourself with somalia or sudan. Guess what they are high enough fir you guys. Tsk…. Tsk.

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  • Parvez
    Feb 14, 2014 - 1:48PM

    No matter how much Pakistan spends on lobbying in Washington, if it does not get its act together at home, all the lobbying will be a waste……….as has been proved time and again.

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  • Al-Bakistan
    Feb 14, 2014 - 1:58PM

    Pakistan needs more religious education. That is one area where Pakistan might lead the way.

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  • Average IndiJoe
    Feb 14, 2014 - 3:01PM

    Dear Author,

    “The Pakistani diaspora consists of either the blue-collar working class, or filthy rich businessmen. What is lacking, unlike in the Indian diaspora, is a concrete educated middle class”.

    That may be a wrong classification. I know and work with few Pakistanis, great engineers and just normal human beings.

    We (my friends and I, including Pakistanis) are average Indie samples, middle class, educated, not active in politics or lobbying. We just do our work in San Jose. Work, behave and feel like a Californians, but I think our presence there itself may be lobbying for India, may be some day for Pakistan.

    Any thoughts?
    ..From 101 and 237

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  • Rex Minor
    Feb 14, 2014 - 3:14PM

    The author has a very archaic views about the world that she lives in; regarding USA as the world Power, and washington as the world capitol which receives emissaries from the rest of the world offering homage and tributes to the glory of the holy Roman, German and American Reich?
    r
    There is nothing against lobbying nor holding Press conferences or even running media campaigns for any country to promote its image in the world. The question the lady should ask when comparing Pakistan with Israel and Saudi Arabia is to state also the benefits they have from such campaigns. The USA is a customer of the Saudi Oil and is the bread supplier of Israel; which explains their activities, whereas Pakistan has lost its stability and destroyed its infra structure simply because its former military ruler surrendered it s sovreignty.

    Pakistan needs to project its. image of a sovereign State and show self respect. No more lobbying or acting against the interests of its own people will give them the advantage over other Nations.

    Rex Minor

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  • Rex Minor
    Feb 14, 2014 - 3:15PM

    2nd attempt,
    The author has a very archaic views about the world that she lives in; regarding USA as the world Power, and washington as the world capitol which receives emissaries from the rest of the world offering homage and tributes to the glory of the holy Roman, German and American Reich?
    r
    There is nothing against lobbying nor holding Press conferences or even running media campaigns for any country to promote its image in the world. The question the lady should ask when comparing Pakistan with Israel and Saudi Arabia is to state also the benefits they have from such campaigns. The USA is a customer of the Saudi Oil and is the bread supplier of Israel; which explains their activities, whereas Pakistan has lost its stability and destroyed its infra structure simply because its former military ruler surrendered it s sovreignty.

    Pakistan needs to project its. image of a sovereign State and show self respect. No more lobbying or acting against the interests of its own people will give them the advantage over other Nations.

    Rex Minor

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  • ivehadit
    Feb 14, 2014 - 4:03PM

    Pakistan has a very active middle class representation in the US. The Pakistani government is a fault for not rallying them to its cause. The middle class is providing support for a number of causes in Pakistan, such as education, technology transfer, etc.

    In an article such as this, it would be nice if the author had done some work in providing some statistics on the makeup of the Pakistani diaspora in the US. It seems more like a join-the-dots argument.

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  • Sexton Blake
    Feb 14, 2014 - 4:15PM

    @unbelievable:
    Dear unbelievable,
    Pakistan cut-off US supplies when they shot up and killed 24 Pakistan troops without provocation at Salala. Just the opposite of what you wrote. Anyway, keep trying. You will get it right one day.

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  • Zulmi Cousin
    Feb 14, 2014 - 5:03PM

    But lobbying is not halal, is it?

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  • zaman ali
    Feb 14, 2014 - 7:14PM

    my understanding is there is a large pakistani middle class in the US, with around 20k doctors alone, whereas in the UK its other way round with large working class and big unemployment problem. most of them are concentrated in the ghettoes of bradford,birmingham and luton.

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  • nrmr44
    Feb 14, 2014 - 10:35PM

    Lobbying is meant to draw attention to truths that are being ignored. Not to pass off concoctions. Pakistan would be spending their money on very stupid people if they could be manipulated. How clever is that?Recommend

  • Afzaal
    Feb 15, 2014 - 8:57AM

    To the people, who say obl was in Pakistan- not true – you are misinformed brain washed.

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  • rasgullah
    Feb 15, 2014 - 2:38PM

    @Sexton Blake:
    So you cut the supplies for Salala and Abbottabad raids? And you need an army for that?

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  • Agnostic
    Feb 15, 2014 - 7:22PM

    I am impressed by the “diversity” of opinion among the Indians. Why ET does not select a couple of comments and add a note: supported by several other Indians.

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  • Agnostic
    Feb 15, 2014 - 7:24PM

    @ Author
    Your piece is a good beginning. Would you like to go on to cover the efforts made by various Pak-Am associations?

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  • Feb 15, 2014 - 8:18PM

    The question is to be asked before Pakistanis spend any money on lobbyists –

    1) Americans make friends where they have something to gain financially oi strategically. Pakistan today has neither to offer. They can buy all their turkey towels and cotton shirts they need in Egypt. They have lost the war for Central Asia to the Ruskies, the Chinese and Iranians. So both are closed cases.

    2) How many Americans would want to shake hands with a nation culpable of hiding and protecting their Public Enemy # 1 Osama bin Ladin. After all Laden was found hiding in a palatial villa, 400 yards from the Pakistan’s top Military Academy and not some fox hole in Waziristan. And no one in Pakistan knew. You think anyone in USA really buys this rope?

    3) How many Americans would trust the Pakistanis after the double dealing that went on during Musharraf and Zardari years?

    4) How many Americans (including an influential population of Born Again Christians, Jews, Hindus, Ahmedis, Bahais, Ismailis, Shiaas, etc occupying positions of power and influence) would like to shake hands with the people of a nation who are continually planning the annihilation of Jews, Crusaders, Hindus, Ismails, Shiaas, Ahmedis, etc..

    The world we live in today is largely focused on three things – financial & strategic gains, optics and sound bites. There are no permanent friends or enemies; there are only permanent interests and they trump all moral and/or ethical considerations. The fact is on every one of these counts Pakistan has not much to offer as of this day. As soon these things change (India experienced this), Pakistan would become the apple pie for the American eyes and the business of Lobbying will be knocking at Pakistan’s doors. Till the the whole exercise is a waste of resources..

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  • optimist
    Feb 16, 2014 - 1:52AM

    There is much more than simple lobying. If the US interests match, Pakistan’s image would be positive even without lobyists.
    .
    Instead of wasting that monney on lobbying, I would make a few good documentaries and show them for free.
    .
    There was a time when Pakistanis had direct access to White House and were very close the the presidents of the USA. Everyone thought it was because of Pakistan’s lobbying. Then the US started affair with India and everything changed.
    .
    Change things at home and people would search for you when they need you.

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  • Rex Minor
    Feb 16, 2014 - 6:49AM

    the revised version;.

    @Jag Nathan:
    Most of your narrative is loaded with emotions and anti Pakistan verbatum. I am not a Pakistani nor am I the admirer of its ex military General but equaly I have no appetite for George W or Barrack O administrations who because of their pranoia launched a crusade against most muslim lands in the name of war on terror.
    Neocons or Neoliberals, call them what you will, they have one feature in common, they base their strategies on LIES and use the machiavillean spin, and are very easily detectible since they cannot walk straight with a chewing gum in mouth. The only plane which was allowed to fly out of USA immediately after sept 11, was the one which carried the complete clan of Mr Bin Laden.
    Mr Osama most probably died years ago because of his chronic illness as was claimed by the military ruler of Pakistan. Both the CIA and the NSA and their supremo mr Obama had to issue the death certifcate for their people and so the world was obliged to watch the soap opera on the cable net work. And what a grand exit from the lie can be but to loose one stealth helicopter and destroy the evidence!!!.
    There is, however, one living evidence yet to tell his story who is not yet in the possession of the yanks, the multimillion dollars heavy doctor who according to reports provided them with DNA sampling.

    Rex Minor

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  • Sexton Blake
    Feb 16, 2014 - 8:07AM

    @Jag Nathan:
    Dear Jag,
    If the Americans believe Washington’s version of what happened to OBL they will believe anything. I will not list the most recent US fairy tales, which Americans appear to believe. I do not think ET have room for 20,000 words. In regard to Americans being pragmatic, perhaps you have not heard that the US is on a permanent war footing for no logical reason, and as a result is completely broke with trillions of dollars worth of debt, which can never be paid back. I will not go into religion or who America gets its instructions from.

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  • Sardar Sahib
    Feb 16, 2014 - 5:16PM

    Indian Embassy is active in the service of its people and the American people .Pakistan Embassy is filled with people who cannot issue a Business Visa to a legitimate person in less then 3 weeks …Pakistan is doomed if this State of affairs persists ..

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