Ghulam Nabi Fai: Myth and Reality
July 6, 2012
When you see something like the statement posted Wednesday June 27, 2012, by an Indian writer in a Tehelka article in a commentary addressing a fire that devastated a 200-year-old Sufi shrine the previous Monday, the irony is so thick that you get the feeling that scriptwriters from Saturday Night Live have been enlisted to help lighten the spirit of Kashmiris. This is surely a joke. Referring to the appointment of interlocutors after the summer uprising of 2010, the writer says: “Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, always an academician first and politician later, felt the need to, once again, dig deep into the problems that were making the people of Kashmir react so violently to mundane, day-to-day social problems.”
“Mundane day to day social problems”? It sounds like maybe the traffic lights aren’t working at one of the street corners in Srinagar or someone’s sewage is backed up.
The comment is typical of how daily executions, rapes and disappearances in Kashmir at the hands of the largest occupying military force in the world in a country no bigger than my home state of Tennessee have been disposed of so casually and callously by the Indian media. It is also typical of how the Indian press has abused the case of Dr. Ghulam Nabi Fai, recently convicted on a charge of improper tax filings related to the operations of the Kashmiri American Council (KAC).
Without a shred of evidence to sustain it, he had first been continuously abused in the press by grossly exaggerated charges, long since dropped, that he had been acting on behalf of the Pakistani spy agency, the ISI, in order to peddle their views to U.S. Congressmen and the administration. I wrote an article about that. After those allegations didn’t hold the tea, charges that were entirely politically motivated, the Indian press wasn’t satisfied. Now it has taken up the outrageous insinuation that a sum of $3.5 million that KAC had received in donations during its two-decade long tenure had been misdirected by Dr. Fai.
Obviously, it would be both awkward and inappropriate for Dr. Fai to make public all his personal financial data just to defeat such rumors, and he is not in the best position to defend himself otherwise. There are court records, if anyone bothered to investigate, which stand clearly in his defense, but the average reader will not take the time to do this. And clearly, whenever anyone accuses someone else of something, denial never completely squelches the charges. A residue of suspicion will always remain. There’s always some benefit of the doubt given to those who make such charges, and the credibility of the accused is always left in a weakened if not a perilous state. In this case, it is not just the credibility of the accused, but the credibility of an entire lifetime of advocacy: the question of self-determination for the people of Kashmir.
Several news sources and commentators not only in India but in Kashmir as well have been distributing opinions about these matters that are completely false. This is not to be taken lightly. The rumors can obviously be quite damaging. Everything that Dr. Fai has ever said or written becomes questionable with such allegations, to be considered in the light of what is true and what is false. So again it is important that we set the record straight.
With that concern in mind, I interviewed Dr. Fai about these allegations, and with his kind and generous cooperation personally reviewed relevant financial records of his in order to determine just how $3.5 million dollars might have been spent. The openness and trust that Dr. Fai has extended to me has been more than just generous. I appreciate sincerely his faith and confidence that I will speak the truth and do justice to these facts.
It is disingenuous for individuals who shoulder the responsibilities of journalism to spread lies when they have full access to the truth, and sufficient press attended the trial so as to both know and publish the truth. One must question whether anything in the press can be trusted, given such bias. The longstanding effort by the Indian press to shield its citizens from the truth about what has been happening in Kashmir reflects itself the heavily biased state of journalism in that country.
It also becomes apparent immediately upon a direct review of the records that there has been nothing disguised or misrepresented in any of the statements that Dr. Fai has made publicly or privately. Everything is in black and white, and nothing is left to speculation or guesswork. I initially had a tendency in writing this commentary to overstate certain facts about his case, and he was quick to correct me and make sure that the truth stood clear.
One of the largest expenses incurred by the Kashmiri American Council was in hiring a public relations firm for seven years, from 1990 to 1996. I have seen the contract. The specific agreement was for the amount of $270,000 per year, not including any additional expenses such as for travel and other costs the firm might incur in fulfilling the contract. The actual cost billed to KAC was well over $300,000 per year, adding up to $2.1 million over a seven year period.
It would be logical to ask: what was the need for hiring such a firm? Wasn’t that an abuse of funds all by itself? One of the principle purposes of hiring such a firm was the need to reach the centers of power in Washington to highlight the issue of Kashmir. That is a matter of extreme significance and weight. The official position of the U.S. on Kashmir has always been that it is a disputed territory, and many pronouncements by U.S. officials assert that the conflict needs to be resolved taking into account the wishes of the Kashmiri people. However, little has been done toward converting that policy into action.
As in so many other instances involving U.S. administration decision-making these days, commercial ventures and corporate interests have taken precedent over human rights. It’s profits before people. That very problem persisted in the decision to derail the longstanding human rights efforts of Dr. Fai as a trade-off for marketing needs pressuring the administration at the time of his arrest, among them the sale of Boeing aircraft. One might also ask how many Apple computers have also been sold in Mumbai since that deal was done. It is actually quite painful to contemplate just how much the character of U.S. foreign policy has drifted into the hands of hucksters and peddlers looking to make a quick buck off foreign trade. Perhaps it pissed off Bill Gates that the efforts of KAC and Dr. Fai were directed toward shifting that priority with public relations aimed at reaching people like Senator Bob Dole, Senator Al Gore, Senator Edward Kennedy, Senator Jesse Helms, and Senator Howard Metzenbaum who, in response to such efforts, cosponsored Senate resolution 91
of 1991 relative to human rights violations in Kashmir.
KAC’s efforts were certainly functioning at a professional level and involved the employment of a full-time staff of two, three, and sometimes four people at a time. I had the pleasure of meeting some of them myself, including Dr. Fai’s secretary, a young woman whose heritage was Mongolian. I can trace some of my roots back to Mongolia through my mother, who was Finnish, so I had some delightful conversations with “Uno,” as she was affectionately known around the office.
The KAC office, which I visited on several occasions before this case came up, was only two blocks from the White House, a short walking distance that every foreign guest would avail himself of. The location at 1111 16th Street N.W. was expensive because of the prime location.
In addition, thousands of dollars were spent on internationalizing the issue of Kashmir. There were the dozens of conferences that Dr. Fai personally coordinated every year not only here in Washington DC but in other important capitals of the world. Eleven international Kashmir conferences were conducted in fact on Capitol Hill, Washington, DC, with 15 to 20 important foreign dignitaries attending each one as speakers, including parliamentarians, politicians and other influential figures. Their travel expenses were covered along with many other expenses that were incurred, including airfare, hotel arrangements, dining, taxi and limousine service.
KAC also published at least 15 books and booklets during this period on Kashmir, with 20,000 copies of each in circulation, a fact sheet on Kashmir and a summary on Kashmir with more than 100,000 copies each, and many other brochures. Obviously, expensive printing and distribution costs were associated with them. Glossy covers were used rather than flat or matte in order to raise awareness and to increase the level of appeal when on conference tables or in the hands of people who took notice of them.
Curiously, I walked into a Barnes and Noble bookstore on a trip to New Jersey a couple of weeks ago to find out if they carried anything on Kashmir and discovered that not only did they not have anything in the bookstore, they did not have anything on their computer that could be ordered. This was just another reason for the need for quality in the printing and publishing efforts of KAC.
Dr. Fai had also been invited to speak on the subject of Kashmir in more than 45 countries of the world within the past 20 years, including Russia, Italy, France, Germany, Netherlands, Sudan, Kuwait, Qatar, United Kingdom, Spain, Senegal, Morocco, Iran, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Canada, Columbia, and others. There was substantial costs associated with such travel.
Fai has also attended more than 30 Kashmir Contact Group Meetings organized by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in Geneva, New York, and in other capitals of the world. He has also organized more than dozen seminars on Kashmir at the United Nations in Geneva and has attended UN conferences there for the last 20 years at least twice and sometimes three times a year.
Another rather huge distortion being spread in the press mentioned at least three times by the same author in Srinagar newspapers and twice by another writer, is that the FBI had seized $139,000 dollars from Dr. Fai’s bank account. Such a fabrication is far more sensitive than other misrepresentations. $139,000 is a huge amount of money and insinuates major wrongdoing and that Dr. Fai was profiting exorbitantly from his efforts at the expense of individuals who believed that the money was being spent usefully to advance the rights of people suffering huge degradation in Kashmir. This again is of course nonsense and criminal itself in perpetrating a fraud upon the dignity and honor of a man who has been frugal and has bent over backward in bringing the needs of his country to the attention of the global community. The public needs to know the real facts, how much money was actually seized and where this money came from.
“I had a joint bank account with my wife,” Dr. Fai told me, “and in fact until July 2011 that was the only account we had. My wife, a computer engineer/computer analyst with more than 24 years of experience, has been paid a good salary because of her experience, hard work, and dedication to her job.” The total amount, which was seized from his joint account, was $16,258.76. This figure was officially recorded on documents I have personally seen. According to those same records, they also seized $8,908.00 in cash from his house. “The writer,” he noted, “failed to mention that the FBI had also seized two other accounts and an IRA. The two bank accounts were not my personal accounts but accounts in the name of the Kashmiri American Council. One was at City Bank and the other at BB&T.” The public trust was not violated, he said.
Had this not been the case, the judge would never have said, “I do not doubt that your mission over the last 25 years has been a mission to bring peace to Kashmir and to try to identify a means to peace between India and Pakistan and Kashmir. You are to be heartily commended for those efforts.”
“All those people who are willing to lend their support to the Kashmir cause and the Kashmiri American Council in Washington and elsewhere have absolutely no reason to be afraid of my case,” Fai told me. “Yes, I made mistakes, which I accepted publicly and in the court and for which I am paying greatly. That should not become an excuse for the passivity and inaction of the people. One may have 101 reasons not to support the Kashmir cause, but the arrest of Dr. Fai cannot be one of them.” Indeed, the judge stated, “ I know that the KAC is dormant, I guess is the word for it at this stage, but there may be an opportunity to arrange conferences through other people in the future, and I hope that cause continues to be identified as an important international matter.”
“The proceedings of the court have made it clear that I was not and I am not an agent of Pakistan. That was the initial allegation for which I was arrested. The world needs to know, and particularly those who write in Kashmiri newspapers to create confusion, that the charge was voluntarily withdrawn by the prosecution. How forcefully and without any ambiguity can I say it? That’s why I would like to quote again the judge: who said, “I sincerely hope that while you’re at a minimum security facility like Cumberland, that I see no reason why you can’t continue to advocate on behalf of the Kashmiri people and to write.”
I’m sure that Kashmiris share with me the hope that this will be possible and look forward to that work in the coming months. Dr. Fai’s love for his country and dedication to the freedom and self-determination of its people is beyond question. Even Judge O’Grady stated, “I don’t for a minute question that Mr. Fai is a true patriot of Kashmir.” He continued, “ I don’t doubt your love for Kashmir and its people, and it’s reflected in his writings and its’s reflected by the people that are here today.”
He added, “A sentence of imprisonment is necessary to deter you and others from future activities as this. And it’s necessary, even though you have done some very moving things on behalf of the Kashmir people and that your cause is a wonderful cause.”
His many years of advocacy in the international community is unequaled and I would suggest irreplaceable. I know of no one else who is doing, or has done, anything comparable and has the capacity to reach an international diplomatic audience, the very people who can make a significant difference in global policy regarding Kashmir.
Two years, of course, is not a terribly long time to be away from the active fronts that arise in respect to policy, but certainly many events will occur that need the attention of men like Dr. Ghulam Nabi Fai. We hope that circumstances will intervene that will enable his active participation even much sooner than is anticipated.
The writer is a Director of United Progressives and the Director of American Affairs for the International Council for Human Rights and Justice.