The commendable efforts by Dr Ghulam Nabi Fai, 62, a Kashmiri by birth and naturalised US citizen, seized with a missionary zeal to project the tragedy of Kashmir not only in the USA, but also rest of the world, were doused by a heavy downpour of suspicion and intrigue when he was arrested on July 19, 2011, and put under house arrest in his home located close to Washington DC.
Fai was the founder and a long-time Executive Director of the Kashmiri American Council (KAC), a Washington-based non-profit group, which projects the Kashmir issue based on the UN resolutions calling for self-determination in Kashmir and peaceful, non-violent struggle by its masses. He was charged for illegally lobbying the Kashmir cause without registering himself as a lobbyist with the American administration and receiving, over a period of 20 years, $3.5 million from the ISI to fund his activities in the US and abroad. As part of a plea bargain whereby he pleaded guilty, Dr Fai only admitted to a generic count of conspiracy and impeding revenue collection of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), but never mentioned violation of Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). His high-profile arrest on trumped-up charges and the manner of its projection by the US officials and media for accepting Pakistan’s money for seeking a peaceful solution to the Kashmir issue raise some poignant points for deliberation.
First, Dr Fai’s impending indictment should in no way diminish his role as the diplomat for the oppressed Kashmiri masses, nor the importance of his peaceful mission. He commands respect among all factions of the Kashmiris desperately trying to have their voice heard by the world; particularly the US, whose support, given the environment of a unipolar world is crucial for realising the dream of self-determination in Kashmir. Even his detractors would agree that Fai is a peacemaker; not a proponent for the extremists or extremism. He played the role of an ‘un-accredited Kashmiri diplomat’ in Washington with diligence and extreme devotion. His mission remained projecting the Kashmir cause in the US and reminding its lawmakers of America’s commitment to the idea of self-determination in Kashmir, as enshrined in the UN resolutions as far back as 1948. As a true son of the soil, he raised the issue at every US think-tank and tried to clear the fog of misperceptions raised by a very intense Indian lobbying effort trying to befuddle the Kashmir issue by equating it with terrorism. Dr Fai’s support for a moderate, political and peaceful solution for Kashmir and denouncement of extremism turned him into a Kashmiri icon, who continues to command the respect of all factions struggling to throw away the yoke of the Indian occupation. He may rest assured that he has done nothing to be contrite about and his mission remains valid and crucial, as ever and worthy of honour and appreciation.
Second, the charges against Dr Fai reek of discrimination and reflection of a cold shoulder by the US government for the UN sponsored Kashmiris right of self-determination. According to the Federal Prosecutor, Mr Fai had funded “high-profile conferences and [paid] for other efforts that promoted the Kashmiri cause to decision makers in Washington.” One might ask: “So what?” In the US, there are around 3,000 registered lobbyists, who have been hired by the foreign governments, at exorbitant retaining fees, to influence policymakers and promote their respective national interest through a relatively favourable stance of the US administration. No court in any country can fault Fai for championing the cause of the Kashmiri people. His only mistake remains his failure to have completed the paper work of having himself registered as lobbyist for a foreign government; a step that he understandably resorted to in order to avoid marginal loss of credibility of his remarkable fight for his people.
Third, nothing evil has been committed in providing money to the KAC to educate the public opinion in USA about Kashmiris right of self-determination and even if the US contention is accepted that the ISI used its channels to provide the financial support, there is nothing toxic about it. Ends justify means and in this case, it ought to be remembered that the objective – Kashmiri’s right of self-determination being pursued – not only had the UN sanction, but also forms the stock principle of America’s global diplomacy reflected lately in the Arab Spring phenomenon. The money [$3.5 million] in question, spread over a period of 20 years, comes to be $200,000 per year, truly making for a stringent budget for maintaining a running office in Washington DC and covering costs of organising seminars and other canvassing activities inside the US as well as abroad. A crass US attitude to Dr Fai’s mission and its vilification only speaks of the scant importance Washington accords to finding a solution to the Kashmir issue.
Lastly, there is a strong possibility that Dr Fai actually was a victim to the ISI-CIA spat, which dominated most of the bygone year, starting with the Raymond Davis episode in which the CIA agent shot to death two Pakistanis in one of the busiest road intersections of Lahore. The timings of US allegations about ISI’s undeclared funding of the KAC strongly suggest that it was a tit-for-tat answer for countervailing Pakistani demands for providing greater transparency about the CIA’s covert and bloody operations inside Pakistan. While the Fai affair orchestrated by the US agency is truly a storm in the teacup and certainly a bad call, yet the Kashmir issue demands a more serious US attempt to work towards cutting through this Gordian Knot to which it has committed itself at the UN, in finding an opportunity for the Kashmiris to exercise their right of self-determination in line with the UN resolutions.
The writer is a freelance columnist.