By Kevin Bogardus - 11/13/13 06:00 AM EST
K Street, take note: Pakistan is back on the market.
The country is without paid representation in Washington after its embassy opted not to renew a $75,000 per month contract with Locke Lord Strategies, the lobbying arm of the law firm Locke Lord.
“My assumption is that Pakistan would be inclined to find another lobbying firm, as — like many embassies — it feels the added heft in Washington is worth the price tag,” said Dan Markey, a senior fellow for India, Pakistan and South Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations.
Justice Department records show that Locke Lord Strategies terminated its contract with Pakistan on July 31, about a month after Nawaz Sharif became the country’s new prime minister.
“It is traditional when there is a change in democratic government for a newly appointed ambassador to select his own team of consultants,” Mark Siegel, a partner at Locke Lord Strategies, told The Hill.
Locke Lord had been representing the Pakistani embassy since 2008 and earned roughly $4.5 million while representing the country, according to Justice Department records.
Siegel was a close adviser to the late Benazir Bhutto, the former Pakistani prime minister who was assassinated in 2007.
Bhutto’s widower, Asif Ali Zardari, was elected president of Pakistan in 2008, and Locke Lord was brought on to lobby for the country’s embassy that same year. Aside from Siegel, Pakistan’s lobby team at one point included Harriet Miers, a former White House counsel under President George W. Bush.
Pakistani Embassy spokesman Nadeem Hotiana confirmed that the embassy no longer has K Street representation.
“The embassy has not yet decided to hire a lobby firm,” Hotiana said.
If the new Pakistan government decides to hire on K Street, they’re likely to find an eager group of suitors.
Lobby shops prize foreign lobbying contracts for their prestige and earnings power, and seek them out despite the negative publicity they sometimes generate.
“We will explore, of course,” one Republican lobbyist said, noting that Pakistan would be “an intriguing and challenging client to represent.”
Pakistan has big interests in Washington and has often relied on K Street for help. In 2009, Locke Lord took credit for congressional passage of a $7.5 billion U.S. aid package to Pakistan.
“The Pakistan-U.S. relationship is central to critical global security issues,” the lobbyist said. “But Pakistan is a client of three factions: the civilian government, the military and the intelligence service. Keeping all three satisfied and on the same page is tough.”
Pakistan’s career foreign service has been wary about bringing on lobbying help for the Washington embassy.
“The decision to hire lobbyists always comes from the political side of the government. The career foreign service thinks lobbying is a waste of money,” a former Pakistani government official said. “The career foreign service of Pakistan doesn’t like lobbyists, but the need for lobbying is greater than it ever has been.”
Several observers noted that Pakistan’s incoming ambassador to the United States, Jalil Abbas Jilani, is a career foreign service officer.
Some big firms might not be able to compete for the Pakistan contract due to conflicts with other clients.
BGR Group and Podesta Group — firms that are well versed in lobbying for foreign governments — represent the Indian government, which often spars with Pakistan.
“Firms that represent India can’t very well represent Pakistan. They’re rival countries,” a lobbyist who works for foreign governments said.
Another K Street giant, Patton Boggs, could be shut out because it works for the U.S.-India Business Council.
Several top firms have lobbied for the Pakistani government over the years.
Cassidy & Associates represented Pakistan for a time, but dropped the contract in 2007 after then-President Pervez Musharraf came under international criticism for declaring emergency rule and arresting his political opponents.
Locke Lord came on board when Zardari rose to power in 2008.
Siegel helped Pakistan deal with the fallout from the U.S. Navy SEAL raid that killed Osama bin Laden in the country. The lobbyist stuck by Pakistan, insisting its government never helped the al Qaeda mastermind escape capture.
But the discovery there of the man responsible for the 9/11 attacks put an enormous strain on the U.S.-Pakistan relationship.
“Very few congressmen want to be seen on the side of Pakistan now,” the former Pakistani government official said.
“Unless Pakistan mounts a major lobbying effort, it will be difficult to turn the opinions of the Hill around.”