ONE can understand why New Delhi welcomed Dr Ghulam Nabi Fai’s arrest: there is perhaps no other American who has done more to bring the cause of Kashmir’s freedom to the notice of a wide range of fellow Americans than this tireless crusader for Kashmir’s freedom.
An irate letter written to then president Clinton by the Kashmiri Women for Communal Harmony, an Indian American women’s organisation, perhaps testified to the effectiveness of Fai’s campaign when it protested against the positive tones in which Clinton had replied to his letter.
On Dec 27, 1993, responding to Fai’s letter, president Clinton said he “shared” Fai’s belief that “we all must look closely at our policies with regard to human rights”, and then added what to KWCH was a provocation, “I look forward to working with you and others to bring peace to Kashmir, and appreciate your input”. This “appreciation” was too much for the KWCH, which sought to add to Clinton’s knowledge by saying that Fai’s Kashmiri American Council was “a stunt” and alleged that the president’s letter had given “respectability” to Fai.
During the first Clinton term, the White House, the State Department and a large number of congressmen both Republicans and Democrats repeatedly asked India to address America’s human rights concerns and enter into talks with Pakistan with a view to a final settlement of Kashmir.
A bewildering variety of activity comprised Fai’s campaign — letters to American leaders, ‘vigils’ outside the White House, personal meetings with congressmen and media personalities, ads in newspapers and demos in Washington D.C. and elsewhere. All this activity was spread over four decades and aroused no suspicion in the American security agencies. Fai’s biggest success came during then Indian prime minister Narasimha Rao’s visit to Washington in May 1994, when an unusually large number of congressmen mobilised themselves on the Kashmir issue. In one week alone, 10 congressmen wrote to president Clinton, urging him to raise the Kashmir issue, India’s defiance of UN resolutions and its violations of human rights during his talks with the Indian prime minister.
Dan Burton, the fiery Republican from Indiana, wrote a letter to secretary of state Warren Christopher, urging him to “express our deep concern about the human rights situation in Kashmir” and to ask Rao to allow the holding of prayers in the Hazratbal mosque, which “continues to be surrounded by military bunkers”.
At the Rayburn Office Building, congressman after congressman, and at least one senator, came to the podium to denounce human rights abuses by India in Kashmir. The occasion was the launching of a book by Prof William Baker, the chief guest being Azad Kashmir prime minister Sardar Abdul Qayyum.
The speeches and the letters to Clinton were uncomfortable for the Indian lobby, because they involved some prestigious names, including Senator Paul Simon, the Democrat from Illinois, who was a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, House majority whip David Bonior and Dana Rohrabacher a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Congressman Bonior, perhaps the most outspoken of them, referred to the “breaking of the shackles of totalitarianism” throughout the world, and demanded the total withdrawal of Indian troops from India-administered Kashmir. The House majority whip regretted that his country did not really understand what was happening in Kashmir and urged president Clinton to raise the issue with Mr Rao. He was convinced the people of Kashmir were bound to achieve their freedom.
Congressman Rohrabacher not only supported the cause of the people of Kashmir, he paid tributes to Pakistan for its role during the Cold War, especially during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.
On May 19, the KAC got a full-page ad published in The Washington Post. Entitled, ‘What Prime Minister Rao will not tell President Clinton’, the black-bordered ad dwelt on the situation in India-administered Kashmir and focused on the human rights situation.
The outcome of the Clinton-Rao meeting was a disappointment for India, for in his very opening statement Clinton called for talks between Pakistan and India to solve the Kashmir issue. Calling for ‘talks’ normally should provoke no government. But so closed has been the Indian mind on Kashmir that Indians squirm at the mere mention of Kashmir.
That the Indians were prepared for some rough moments during the White House talks became clear when an Indian newsman asked Rao whether Clinton had twisted his arm. To a burst of laughter, and showing his arm to the newsmen Rao said, “My arm is absolutely intact. The president didn’t even touch it”. Clinton was, of course, tactful. He expressed the usual warmth reserved for a visiting head of government, spoke of values that united America and India but then replied “differences remain” when an Indian newsman asked him whether there was an identity of views between the two leaders.
The joint statement issued after the talks contained on the American side’s insistence the following fifth point: “The two leaders agreed on the need for bilateral negotiations between India and Pakistan to resolve outstanding issues, including Jammu and Kashmir, as envisaged in the Simla agreement.” Without Pakistan being there, Clinton insisting on a Kashmir solution in a bilateral US-India statement was quite a success for Fai. It is true that others also helped, including first and foremost the Pakistan embassy headed by Dr Maleeha Lodhi, various Pakistani associations and the American Muslim Council, led by Abdul Rahman Alamoudi (arrested in September 2003). But no one played a greater role in highlighting Kashmir’s cause than Fai, assisted by a fellow Kashmiri the late journalist Khalid Hasan.