Fai Sentencing: The untold story

As is now widely known, the former Executive Director of the Kashmiri American Council (KAC) was recently sentenced by a US District court on two counts: tax evasion and misinformation to the FBI. As was expected, and to some degree understandable, the conformist and myopic Indian electronic and print media went merrymaking and vied against each other in truth- twisting to get their ratings up. They declared Fai ‘gone’ and the Kashmiri American Council dead. Some went gaga that Kashmir’s “separatist” movement had been served a deathly blow. We will not expend any time on whether Dr Fai was a victim of a tug of an ongoing war between the CIA and ISI. Let the truth speak for itself: No one knows it better than Dr Fai himself. We know this for sure: He broke the US law and he was justifiably sentenced. However, it is important to remember that Dr Fai was sentenced for some of his methods rather than the principles he perused.

We will merely focus on a few important issues that are relevant to the ongoing anti-occupation narratives in Kashmir, and are linked to Dr Fai’s sentencing. The sentencing was unquestionably just, however painful to Dr Fai and his family. Since the sentencing was just, the reaction it engendered in Kashmir sounded simply ludicrous, unless seen in the perspective of what it actually signifies.

First, KAC has resumed functioning as usual after initial restrictions on its activities were lifted. Second, the US District Court Judge, Liam O’Grady in Alexandria, Virginia, who sentenced Dr Fai, openly acknowledged Kashmir’s self determination movement as “just”, and encouraged Dr Fai to continue his activities concerning Kashmir’s freedom struggle while in prison. There will be no restrictions, what- so- ever, on Dr Fai to resume his Kashmir related activities from within the precincts of the minimum security prison. Judge O’Grady observed: “I sympathize with the people of Kashmir.” This is the US justice system at its best.

Whether Dr Fai will or should pursue his activities while incarcerated is for him to determine. What is important to the freedom narrative on Kashmir is the acknowledgment by the judge that he sympathized with the people of Kashmir for their “just cause”. This public acknowledgement by a sentencing judge is what the Indian media conveniently hushed up. They thought it fit to publish or broadcast anything the judge said about Dr Fai’s wrongdoings but did not bother to highlight the details of what the judge said about the Kashmir movement that Dr Fai espoused. This would have been an anti-national bête noir—crossing the laxaman rekha of national interest. Suppression of the truth about Kashmir has worked neither in the past, nor will it ever erase the Kashmir dispute’s nature as a self-determination movement. This myopic and facile journalism only blindfolds India’s own unsuspecting public who are incessantly fed with ‘all is well on the Kashmir front’ stories 24/7. Seen in this backdrop, the Indian media’s concern has never been their perceived national interest but their ratings, and, therefore their profit bottom-line.

Let us now turn to the nature of the reaction in Kashmir against Dr Fai’s sentencing. At the first look, the reaction was an embarrassment for all Kashmiris across the globe. After all, Dr Fai himself, under no duress, admitted before the judge his wrongdoings. Where was the case for ‘‘wrongful sentencing”? It was, without any question, just, and perhaps even lenient. Tax evasion in the Western countries is an offense punishable by imprisonment or fine or both. The Internal Revenue Service rules apply equally to a common citizen, serving or former presidents, Congressmen, Senators or any other high profile official. This is not Kashmir where the rich, influential, and well-connected can plunder the national exchequer without any fear of consequences. To that extent then, the reaction against the court verdict was an embarrassment we could have done without. The timings of bringing the charges may have been politically motivated, but the sentencing was not. That said, now let us flip the coin.

This seemingly unsavory reaction against the verdict is symptomatic of an underlying malaise that characterizes the US relations with the Muslim world on the one hand, and between India and Kashmir on the other. Rightly or wrongly, there is a deep sense of mistrust, resentment and even anger among the Muslim masses against the US handling of issues pertaining to world’s more than a billion Muslims. This anger and mistrust pervades across continents—Kashmir being no exception– and shows no signs of abating. The US State department is keenly aware of this widespread phenomenon, and has deployed innumerable financial and political resources to correct these perceptions in efforts to change the hearts and minds of the global Muslim communities.

In Kashmir, the call for a general strike against Dr Fai’s sentencing, however misplaced, was indicative of a more profoundly deeper sense of mistrust, resentment and anger reserved for the Indian State. That there is a sense of disengagement with New Delhi bears no reiteration. This is manifestly attributable to their reaction to the occupation, murder, and the political and economic betrayal of last six decades. Thus, anything –yes, anything –that gives any succor to the Indian State to rejoice brings gloom to Kashmir. Anything that is even remotely suspected of causing any harm to the Kashmir cause is dismissed as the handiwork of India’s diplomacy. Kashmiris see this as a zero-sum phenomenon. Kashmiris, often at their own peril, waste no time in censuring the Indian State for its occupation, or expressing their resentment against the real or perceived supporters of India in the international community. Viewed solely from this vantage point, the Fai episode and the reaction it generated in Kashmir, has yet again brought into focus the true nature of the resentment against the Indian State. The Indian media bears a moral and ethical responsibility in bringing these aspects of Dr Fai’s sentencing to the Indian masses. In doing so, they will have served their national interest better.

Faisal Khan is a citizen writer. Can be reached at: