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    Wednesday, 23 May 2018

    PPP paid $100,000 to Washington lobbyist for Bilawal meetings

    The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) hired a lobbying firm in Washington for one month in February this year and paid $100,000 fees for setting up meetings and media interviews for Bilawal Bhutto Zardari.
    Papers available with The News – and filed with the US Department of Justice under Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) of 1938 - show that the payment was made by the PPP to lobbyist Jonathan Stember’s firm “Gunster Strategies Worldwide” just before the start of Bilawal Bhutto’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.
    A spokesman of the lobbying firm as well as a PPP senior leader, requesting anonymity, confirmed to The News that the Gunster was hired from 2nd February 2018 till 2nd March 2018. Papers filed by the Gunster Strategies Worldwide (“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 that it had been signed up to act on behalf of Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, chairman of the PPP.
    The lobbying firm said that the PPP was dedicated to “promoting democracy while supporting public ownership, egalitarianism, equality and a strong national defence”. 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”.
    The contract outlined that “the financial terms during the term of engagement fees for services provided by the Gunster Strategic Worldwide to PPP will be USD $1000,000.00” and confirmed that the payment will be made in advance on February 2, 2018.
    During his visit to the Washington DC, Bilawal Bhutto held many meetings arranged by the lobbying firm. Former Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani’s son Qasim Gilani and Shehryar Taseer posted pictures of the group travelling on a train. Its 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 this correspondent 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.
    “The PPP does not have a permanent lobbyist in the US. Most of the meetings during the visit therefore were arranged by friends of the family in the US at a personal level. The NBP Committee also arranges side meetings focusing on faith, peace and harmony. During this visit with a view to exploring whether it is worthwhile to hire lobbyists in the US in the future we also engaged services of a lobbyist on part time basis. The purpose of the meetings of course was to put across Pakistan's case on various issues and to seek support for human development projects in Pakistan as for instance in his meeting with USAID officials.”
    The PPP leadership has been relying on lobbyists in Washington to push forward its narrative. In 2011, the PPP govt had hired Locke Lord Strategies to launch a charm offensive at the Capitol Hill. 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 Pervez Musharraf who had grown too close to the then US administration.

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