Former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf, a regular on the foreign policy speaking circuit in this country, is seeking access to top U.S. lawmakers as he plans his return home after several years of self-imposed exile. And so he’s hired a local lobbying firm, to the tune of $25,000 a month, to help facilitate the effort.
So far, the investment appears to have paid off. Early this month, Musharraf met with six U.S. senators — including Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and ranking committee Republican John McCain (R-Ariz.), as well as Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), the senior minority member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.
Musharraf also sat down with former House speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who just four years ago denounced him as delusional and undemocratic after he suspended Pakistan’s constitution and imposed emergency rule.
The congressional meetings were widely publicized in Pakistan, where Musharraf has struggled to maintain an image as an international player as he plans to return and run for president.
A spokeswoman for Levin said the senator found the session “useful” but was unsure what role Musharraf could play in helping to repair U.S.-Pakistani relations.
Musharraf, who took power in a 1999 coup, was a valuable counterterrorism ally for the George W. Bush administration and served as both president and head of the Pakistani army until resigning from the latter post in 2007.
By the time he left the presidency in 2008 under threat of impeachment, the United States had moved on to back a democratically elected government.
Since then, Musharraf has lived in London. Last year, he announced the formation of a new political party and said he would return to Pakistan in early 2012 to run in for president the following year.
Musharraf’s party, the All Pakistan Muslim League, has no seats in Parliament and little political backing. “He does not have secured constituencies or candidates who can win elections,” said Pakistani political analyst Hasan-Askari Rizvi. Musharraf, who also faces potential legal action on charges of murder and treason, “is fit for TV talk shows and interviews rather than practical politics,” Rizvi wrote in a recent column.
According to a foreign agent registration filed here last month, Musharraf has retained Advantage Associates International, a lobbying group of seven former House members headed by three-term Texas Democrat Bill Sarpalius, who was unseated by the Republican House takeover in 1994.
The seven-month, $175,000 contract is financed by Philadelphia-based Pakistani-American Raza Bokhari, a wealthy physician-turned-entrepreneur and long-time Musharraf backer.
Advantage “helped facilitate those meetings” with Congress, Sarpalius said in a telephone interview. “We just help open up some of those doors where he can meet with some of those members and tell his story.”
Musharraf, Sarpalius said, is “not looking for any endorsements or anything like that. He’s basically been letting people know that he is looking at going back and running for president, and wants these members to understand his views and what he sees are some of the main issues facing Pakistan.”
Along with Vice President Biden and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), Musharraf spoke recently at the Washington Ideas Forum, co-sponsored by the Aspen Institute and The Atlantic. He called on the United States to be more understanding of Pakistan’s “sensitivities” about India, and said the two South Asian countries were engaged in a “proxy conflict” in Afghanistan. India, Musharraf said, was “trying to create an anti-Pakistan Afghanistan.”
Musharraf also said he had no knowledge, while president, that Osama bin Laden had been living for years in the town of Abbottabad, where a U.S. Special Operations raid found and killed the al-Qaeda leader in May. He said Pakistan may be guilty of “negligence” in failing to find bin Laden, but not of “complicity” in his concealment.
As part of his current 12-city U.S. tour, Musharraf will speak this month at the Clinton presidential library in Arkansas and the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. He also plans to return to Washington for an appearance at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that Bill Sarpalius (D-Tex.) was a four-term member of Congress.
Correspondent Karin Brulliard in Islamabad contributed to this report.