Thursday, March 23, 2023

Neither Prayer Nor Breakfast: A Tale of Two Visits

UPDATE: Senator Mark Pryor, of the National Prayer Breakfast Foundation, confirmed our reporting that Barrister Sultan Mehmood Chaudhry was not a guest at the National Prayer Breakfast. His response, “No, he was not. Let me clarify that answer because there has been some confusion around a second event held that day in D.C.  This was the first year for the National Prayer Breakfast to be held by a new U.S. foundation called the National Prayer Breakfast Foundation.  Even though the event has been held for 70 years, it never had its own nonprofit or foundation status. This year, the National Prayer Breakfast was held at the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center and was a members of the House and Senate only invitation. There was an event called The Gathering at the Washington Hilton, but it was unaffiliated with the National Prayer Breakfast. I understand they watched the President’s remarks, but otherwise had their own program. We do not know who was invited to that event, but we understand many internationals attended.”

Washington, DC – The precarious financial situation of Pakistan seems to have no impact on the foreign jamborees of its leaders. Two such recent visits to Washington DC have caught the media’s attention in the United States.

The first visit was of Barrister Sultan Mehmood Chaudhry, President of Pakistan-held Jammu & Kashmir, whose office disseminated misinformation to the media regarding a high-profile annual event in Washington DC which they claimed he would be attending. Pakistan media had reported that Chaudhry, who concluded a one-week visit to the US, was to attend the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, DC, per a press release issued by his office. This annual event, which the US President attends, has now been streamlined and was conducted differently from past events, with the gathering limited to members of Congress “plus one’s spouse, family member, or constituent guest,” according to former senator Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) – board president of the National Prayer Breakfast Foundation. However, the release from Chaudhary’s office mentions the event as “being hosted by the US President Joe Biden to Muslims each year at White House in Washington DC,” as per Pakistani media reports.

In a comment on background to GSV, the White House said, “National Prayer Breakfast is hosted at the US Capitol, and the Administration was not involved with the invites.” Clearly, there is no event that was hosted by President Biden for Muslims, as the press release suggests. The National Prayer Breakfast (held on the first Thursday of every February) is inherently a Christian event. The official breakfast this time was attended by President, lawmakers, and US Administration officials at the visitor center of the US Capitol. 

Washington Post reported, as per a statement sent to reporters by former senator Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), the prayer breakfast, whose highlight is typically a speech from the sitting US president, is no longer run by the International Foundation, a Christian group also known as the Fellowship Foundation and more familiarly referred to as “the Family.” Instead, the 2023 breakfast, held this year on February 2, has been coordinated by the newly created National Prayer Breakfast Foundation, which emerged “following numerous meetings in 2022,” according to Pryor’s statement.

There was a second event- the unofficial breakfast- hosted by the controversial International Foundation or Fellowship Foundation at the Washington Hilton hotel with over 1,400 attendees, including from foreign countries. This unofficial event was attended by Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari. However, no senior figure from the Biden administration was present. Why Bhutto participated in the event organized by a controversial organization that the US administration and lawmakers boycotted remains a mystery.

The Pakistan Embassy in Washington re-tweeted Foreign Minister Zardari’s tweet about his attendance at the unofficial prayer breakfast, but has maintained a silence on the visit of Barrister Sultan Chaudhry. The current Pakistan Ambassador, Masood Khan, was previously the President of Pakistan-held Kashmir, and the embassy’s silence on the visit of Barrister Sultan Chaudhary is conspicuous.

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Pia Sherman

Pia Sherman is a freelance writer. Views expressed are solely of the author.

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