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Turmoil in Pakistan reached K Street last week. In an unusual move, lobbying powerhouse Cassidy & Associates abruptly withdrew from a lucrative $1.2 million lobbying contract it had signed only last month with the Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. The firm cited “recent developments in Pakistan.” The problems in Pakistan “have made it difficult to effectively fulfill our mission on behalf of the Embassy of Pakistan. These dramatic changes have forced us to most respectfully withdraw our representation of the embassy effective today,” the firm’s director of corporate communications, Tom Alexander, said in a statement issued late on Nov. 7. When asked earlier that week, shortly after President Pervez Musharraf’s decision to declare emergency rule, Alexander had said Cassidy continued to represent Pakistan. After issuing the statement, Alexander declined to expand further on exactly what led Cassidy to decide to withdraw later in the week or to describe the behind-the-scenes deliberations that took place. “I think that there are extraordinary circumstances,” he said, referring to the military law engulfing Pakistan, and added that the statement shows the decision is not “something that is taken lightly.” In response to a question about the potential effect Cassidy’s withdrawal could have on other international clients — the firm’s roster includes a lucrative and long-standing contract with the Republic of Equatorial Guinea — Alexander said, “We don’t anticipate it having any effect, as our global consulting group remains strong in the market.” Officials at the Pakistani Embassy could not be reached for comment last week. The Pakistan account, led by Robin Raphel, a former ambassador and former deputy inspector general in the office of the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, was supposed to last a year. Raphel joined the firm this fall; she referred questions to Alexander. Cassidy’s decision drew attention in both Pakistan and India. Pakistan’s Daily Times newspaper quoted Raphel as saying that the firm had to withdraw “because under the circumstances we cannot do what we agreed to do. I do hope things will take a turn for the better in Pakistan soon.” The newspaper described Cassidy’s decision as “another sign of how unpopular and difficult it has become to defend or sell Pakistan’s case in Washington.” The Times of India declared that “considering Washington’s lobbying firms represent some of the most odious regimes across the world, it can’t get worse for Gen. Musharraf.” Mark Tavlarides of Van Scoyoc Associates, which has a $55,000-per-month contract to lobby on behalf of Pakistan, says Van Scoyoc will continue to represent the country during what he acknowledges is “a very challenging time.” He says the firm is working to convey congressional reactions to the embassy. Members of Congress and staff members “have justifiable concerns, and they’ve been very open in conveying those concerns,” he says. Musharraf’s suspension of the country’s constitution, dismissal of Pakistan’s chief justice, and crackdown on lawyers and political dissidents have sparked international outcry. Two Democrats with influence over foreign aid — Rep. Nita Lowey of New York and Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont — have called for a review of aid to Pakistan, and possibly setting new conditions for its continuance, in the wake of Musharraf’s actions. The country receives roughly $150 million a month, making it one of the largest recipients of U.S. aid. The Bush administration has stressed Pakistan’s strategic importance as an ally in the war against terrorism, though it’s unclear how far the administration’s support for Musharraf will go. U.S. officials have urged him to reverse the declaration of emergency rule and relinquish his position as head of the military. Last week, Musharraf pledged he would hold elections before Feb. 15. Van Scoyoc’s Tavlarides declined to talk about any specific actions he is taking on behalf of Pakistan, but in a disclosure filed with the Justice Department last July, the firm reported participating in meetings with more than a dozen members of Congress, including Lowey, on Pakistan’s behalf during the first half of the year. Cassidy’s contract with the embassy called for it to analyze options the country could pursue “to effectively deliver messages regarding the role Pakistan plays as an important strategic partner of the U.S.” It also called for the powerhouse firm to “promote better understanding of the country’s recent political, social, and economic developments” and to help embassy officials prepare for media interviews. The embattled country probably needs help with that now more than ever.
Carrie Levine can be contacted at [email protected].

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