May 22, 2018 (DESPARDES/PKONWEB) — Pakistan’s largest moderate and left-of-the-center political party PPP hired lobbyists several time in the USA over a period of 10 years, in pursuit of its goal to make American movers and shakers understand its narrative and remove misconceptions and create a favorable environment for improving Pak-US relations.
According to local daily The News, The Pakistan Peoples Party’s (PPP) most recent effort involved hiring Washington-based lobbying firm “Gunster Strategies Worldwide” for one month in February for setting up meetings and media interviews for its Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari.
Papers available with the media outlet – and filed with the US Department of Justice under Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) of 1938 – show that PPP hired lobbyist Jonathan Stember’s firm just before the start of Bilawal’s visit of Washington on 2nd February 2018. Jonathan P. Stember is President at Gunster Strategies Worldwide and describes himself as a political and strategic fixer.
Hiring of lobbyists and lobbying firms by foreign governments, political parties, advocacy groups, business entities, etc. is legal in the U.S. and a regular practice, provided such hirings are formally registered with the government.
A spokesman of the lobbying firm as well as a PPP senior leader, requesting anonymity, confirmed to the paper that the firm was contracted for one month — from 2nd February 2018 till 2nd March 2018.
Papers filed by the lobbying firm (“registrant”) with the National Security Division (NSD) and US Department of Justice under Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) of 1938 as registrant note the name of Pakistan People’s Party (“client”) as the “foreign political party, registered at Parliament Lodges, Islamabad, Pakistan”. The Gunster Strategies Worldwide confirmed to the paper that it had been hired to facilitate Bilawal Bhutto Zardari’s meetings and interactions in the US.
The firm said that the PPP was dedicated to “promoting democracy while supporting public ownership, egalitarianism, equality and a strong national defense”.
The contract between the PPP and the Gunster outlined that that the registrant will assist “the foreign principal with regard to an upcoming visit by the chairman of the PPP, Mr Bilawal Butto Zaradi, registrant promises to arrange interaction between the chairman and various members of the congressional and executive branches. Registrant will also arrange media interview of the chairman with various media outlets”.
During his visit to the Washington DC, Bilawal held many meetings arranged by the lobbying firm. It’s understood that Bilawal’s invitation to the National Prayer Breakfast was also arranged by the Gunster Worldwide. The PPP media cell and Bilawal posted pictures of himself with US Secretary of State Mr RexTillerson and his wife. Bhutto addressed the Woodrow Wilson Institute where he spoke about the need of a strong democracy in Pakistan to defeat terrorism and extremism.
During the US trip this year, Bilawal met Congressman Brad Sherman of Democratic Party in Capitol Hill.
PPP’s senior leader Farhatullah Babar confirmed to the paper that Gunster Strategies Worldwide was hired on “part time basis”.
He said Bilawal Bhutto Zardari’s week-long visit to Washington DC in February this year was in pursuance of the invitation to the National Breakfast Prayer events hosted every year by a bi-partisan US Congressional Committee.
He added: “The primary purpose of the visit was to participate in the events surrounding the National Breakfast Prayer. However, taking advantage of it the Chairman PPP also met some US Congressmen, addressed private think tanks, met some members of Pakistani Diaspora and visited the office of USAID.”
In 2011, the PPP govt had hired Locke Lord Strategies to help its government — PPP ruled for the period 2008 – 2013, meet important personalities at the Capitol Hill.
Earlier, Benazir Bhutto had hired Mark Siegel, a political operative who had been executive director of the Democratic National Committee, to act on behalf of the Pakistani government.
The martyred Benazir Bhutto had also hired BKSH & Associates in 2007 to counter then President and military ruler Pervez Musharraf who had grown too close to the Bush US administration. It worked with the return of Benazir to Pakistan that year after signing a deal formalized as the National Reconciliation Ordnance (NRO). There were several beneficiaries of the NRO including Benazir.