WASHINGTON – Pakistan’s Washington lobbyists have launched an intense campaign on Capitol Hill to counter accusations that Islamabad was complicit in giving refuge to Osama bin Laden.
Alarmed by lawmakers’ demands to cut off billions of dollars of U.S. aid after bin Laden was found living in a Pakistani safe house for six years, President Asif Ali Zardari 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 — told Reuters on Thursday he had spoken twice to Zardari since U.S. special forces killed bin Laden on Sunday, and “countless” times to the Pakistani ambassador in Washington.
“They are certainly concerned,” Siegel said, adding that suggestions the Pakistani government knew about bin Laden’s whereabouts was nothing more than speculation.
Referring to a statement by 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.”
There is much at stake for Pakistan as many lawmakers question how bin Laden could have lived in a large fortified compound close to a Pakistani military base for so long.