It was just one month after the attacks of September 11, 2001.
U.S. forces were poised to invade Afghanistan in just a few weeks.
Gen. Pervez Musharraf in Pakistan was getting a lot of pressure from the White House to cooperate with the newly declared War on Terror. And he wanted a few favors in return.
Who did the Musharraf government turn to to help navigate relations with the U.S.?
A few Houston-based Republicans, including Stephen Payne, who was recently caught on video telling a politician from Kazakistan he could arrange meetings with high-ranking Bush administrations officials in exchange for a large donation to Bush’s presidential library fund.
Payne was one of several Bush supporters who made up a firm known as Team Eagle, which signed a $180,000-a-year contract with the Pakistani government on Oct. 13, 2001, according to a government database maintained under the Foreign Agents Registration Act.
The firm was also known as Team Barakat, according to FARA documents.
Payne was partners in the firm with Gary Polland, the head of the Harris County Republican Party, according to a January 14, 2002, report in the Houston Chronicle, which we found in the Nexis database.
Polland was widely celebrated as the man who empowered the Houston-area party machine in the 1990s.
A third partner was Houston lawyer Brian Ettinger, former aide to U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joseph Biden (D-DE), according to the Chronicle report. (Ettinger may have worked for a Democrat, but he’s given more than $20,000 to Republican political campaigns and PACs since 2002, FEC reports show)
Payne, Polland and Ettinger did not immediately respond to calls for comment.
You might remember that just before September 11, 2001, our relations with Pakistan were very rocky. The U.S. State Department had strongly condemned Pakistan for testing a nuclear bomb in 1998. And we denounced Musharaff as an undemocratic dictator after he staged a coup in 1999 and ousted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
Specifically, the U.S. had imposed a range of economic sanctions on Pakistan.
But all that came into question after the Bush administration decided it wanted Musharraf to let the U.S. run massive military supplies through his county as we sought to overthrow the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.
It was those economic sanctions that the Pakistani government wanted some help with from the Houston firm.
According to the contract signed in October 2001, the Pakistanis wanted:
“Meetings with Administration officials and members of congress and/or staff and share with Pakistan the U.S. attitudes and desires regarding the bilateral relationship with Pakistan and assist in bringing U.S. interests together.
The policies in issue are:
(1) In ending U.S. sanctions against Pakistan.
(2) In providing economic assistant on Pakistan’s external debt and related trade issues.
Payne’s current firm, Worldwide Strategies, has a brochure that rattles off a list of major accomplishments it achieved for Pakistan in a brochure originally obtained by the Times of London:
Helped Pakistan negotiate a 5-year, $3 billion dollar aid package from the United States .
Coordinated the removal of economic and military sanctions imposed on Pakistan under the Clinton Administration
Secured Pakistan the prestigious ‘Major Non-NATO Ally Status” including: Japan, Australia, Israel, Egypt
And this might be the most interesting accomplishment Payne’s firm claims:
After intensive coordinated efforts, Pakistan was finally able to purchase f-16 fighter jets (previously canceled under the Clinton Administration) and secured the delivery of C-130 transport aircrafts, helicopters and night-vision equipment from the U.S. to fulfill Pakistani military requirements.”
Worldwide Strategies also quotes a letter from Musharraf to Payne:
… It gives me great pleasure to thank you for playing such an important role in strengthening US Pakistan ties . . . The challenges faced by both our countries in the aftermath of September 11th, brought us even closer, in which you played a pivotal role . . .
-Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf
Letter to Stephen Payne, Dated January 21, 2006 . . .