It did not happen overnight. It took decades of focused and strategic efforts by Indian government to build up a strong lobby in Washington. Irrespective of which government came and which government went, the goal remained consistent. Although India had lobbied for different causes in Washington, it was in 2005 that it made a shrewd and wise decision. To this end two notable firms were hired at the cost of an amount of $60,000 each per month. According to the papers filed under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, India paid a handsome sum of over 5 million dollars to Washington lobbyists in year 2008 alone. The then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh pushed for a stronger relationship with America aimed at cooperation for civil nuclear energy.
Robert Blackwill served as US Ambassador to India from 2001 to 2003. Once back in America, he joined the prestigious Barbour Griffith & Rogers, a very influential lobbying Republican firm. The relationship with India was strong during Blackwill’s time. He supported granting India a seat in the nuclear power exclusive club. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh then made a smart move. Instead of putting all eggs in one basket, he hired another firm with a Democrat leaning in case of their numbers strengthening in Congress. Not only this, professional lobbying firms had started closely working to protect interest of around three hundred American companies having business interests in India with the USIBC (US-India Business Council).
The lower chamber of US Congress built a Caucus for India and Indian Americans in 1994 which became a large and influential group. A similar group was later formed in the upper chamber called ‘the Senate Friends of India’.
The Indian influence since then grew to impact major decisions. One example is when Richard Holbrooke was on top of Obama Administration’s list to be appointed as the South Asia envoy, India did not wish to be a part of the portfolio making it a triangle with Afghanistan and Pakistan. India was aware that if this happened, Holbrooke will probably at some point focus on Kashmir. It cannot not be emphasized enough that this is the core issue between India and Pakistan, creating a tussle for gaining better influence in Afghanistan to use as strategic depth. After long and profound lobbying, India’s investment paid off. India was not made a part of Holbrooke’s portfolio. In other words, the Afghanistan issue was delayed by officially not making India a part then; in line with Indian foreign policy to later encourage India greater space in Afghanistan unofficially.
Pakistan’s efforts at creating a lobby is Washington have been focused more towards paying firms to lobby for them and excluding and not involving the educated middle class people working and settled in America. But these firms too cannot deliver in absence of robust policies. Pakistan has focused more on individual placement at sensitive positions than developing concrete policies. Supporting PAC (Pakistan American Community) to promote Pakistan’s culture and making it interactive with those in Washington power corridors acting as ‘soft ambassadors’ would have been a good step.
Also, Pakistan’s government should have cultivated a coterie of intelligent people including diplomats and writers. Different people writing in favor of different countries and extending support at different levels. An extended arm of the government foreign office aimed at developing relationship with and winning confidence of key people there to gain information and assess that information for Pakistan’s diplomatic efforts to further her national interests.
It was not till 2016 that Pakistan started looking for professional and well reputed lobbyists. Two incidents were responsible for this agitation. First, the intense efforts by Obama administration to induct India into the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) and second was the refusal of US to subsidize an F-16 deal with Pakistan. Around July 2013, Pakistan had not renewed its contract with Locke Lord Strategies, shortly after PML-N moved in after PPP. The company, most feel, was hired owing to one of the partners Mark Siegel; being a good friend to Benazir Bhutto. With Nawaz Sharif in power the third time round, there was no Foreign Minister for years; this speaks volumes of the weight given to the importance of diplomacy and building bridges.
Coming to Afghanistan, it should not be difficult to see Pakistan’s failure to convey and convince her narrative to those in Washington’s power corridors as surprising. In spite of genuine concerns, in spite of being one of the worse victims of War on Terror, Pakistan’s failure has been a diplomatic one. The failure was first created at The Hill first because of her own inaction or late action, and second because of India’s active lobbying; resulting in the narrative that Pakistan has shown deliberate insincerity to the US. Americans believe Pakistan fears Indian influence in Afghanistan (never mind that facts prove the fears right) and this fear has not allowed them to come down hard on the Haqqani network.
The lack of cohesive policies on Pakistan’s end has made India’s job easier!
The writer is a lawyer, academic and political analyst. She has authored a book titled ‘A Comparative Analysis of Media & Media Laws in Pakistan.’ She can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org tweets at @yasmeen_9