While the rumblings of discontent grow in Washington over the presence of Osama bin Laden in a major garrison town in Pakistan, Islamabad’s lobbyists have launched an intense campaign on Capitol Hill to counter accusations that Islamabad was complicit in giving refuge to the world’s most wanted man.
Alarmed by some lawmakers’ demands to cut off billions of dollars of US aid after bin Laden was found living in a Pakistani safe house for six years, the government of Pakistan has ordered a full-court press to quell mounting accusations that it helped the al Qaeda leader avoid capture.
Mark Siegel, a partner in the Washington lobbying firm of Locke Lord Strategies – which is paid $75,000 a month by the Pakistani government – said he had spoken twice to the President of Pakistan since US special forces killed Bin Laden on Sunday, and to the Pakistani ambassador in Washington.
“They are certainly concerned,” said Siegel, adding that suggestions the Pakistani government knew about Bin Laden’s whereabouts was nothing more than speculation. Referring to a statement by US President Barack Obama’s counterterrorism adviser, John Brennan, that there must have been a support system for Bin Laden inside Pakistan, Siegel said, “There is no proof that a support system was government-based.”
Some members of Congress are now demanding that nearly $3 billion in annual aid for Pakistan, included in Obama’s 2012 budget be blocked until the Zardari administration explains how Bin Laden lived untouched just 30 miles outside Islamabad. Pakistan has received over $20 billion in US aid since the September 11, 2001, attacks.
Patrick Leahy, the Democratic chairman of the US Senate subcommittee that allocates foreign aid, said on Thursday he wants a complete review of aid to Pakistan. Leahy said he was certain that some Pakistani military and intelligence officials knew that Bin Laden was hiding so close to Islamabad.
“It’s impossible for them not to have some idea he was there,” Leahy told Vermont Public Radio.
But Siegel, referring to claims by the Afghan government that Pakistan must have known the al Qaeda leader’s whereabouts, said, “Must have known doesn’t mean knew.”
Siegel’s firm was retained by the PPP-led government in 2008 and has earned nearly $2 million in fees since then, according to Justice Department records. Siegel said his firm is paid $900,000 a year by Pakistan.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 6th, 2011.
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