MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING MARGINALIA

Ghulam Nabi Fai may have been charged of an offence in United States but he already suddenly stands convicted in India, courtesy some of its over zealous media and hawks, who seem to be on duty to blow everything out of proportion and context. The entire hullabaloo over Fai actually seems to be a case of much ado about nothing; at least all this hair splitting and demonisation of the man and his list of guests is not only unjustified. It is obnoxious also.

Firstly, Fai has only so far been charged with using ISI funds to lobby for Pakistan in America. A person is innocent till he is proved guilty. Besides, the main charges against Fai are not that he was receiving money from ISI to lobby for Pakistan but that he was accepting money without getting it registered with the United States government, and of using devious methods to hide this information. If the charges are true, what’s the big deal about ISI funded event where Indians are invited. ISI is not an outlawed, banned terror outfit. It is the security agency of a sovereign country, much like India’s RAW. Both are known to have their own lobbyists within and outside the sub-continent. While one may have no love lost for either of them, one is equally at pains to draw a distinction between the agency funded seminars and those funded by governments. So while some hawks merrily go to seminars organised and backed by Pakistan government, there is a certain kind of high moral ground taken in rejecting the ones funded by ISI, which despite all its flaws and even its proximity to some terror groups is distinct from Taliban or any other non-state militant outfit.

A massive propaganda seems to have been unleashed by those taking the high moral ground since they were not invited, or rejected Fai’s conference invitation or they can preach that others should have better sense to judge where the funding was coming from and what Fai’s agenda really was, and to conclude how unsuspectingly some of them fell for the bait. It was even projected as a wine and dine program where guests were well looked after in five star hotels in Washington and paid business class tickets, which is highly an exaggeration. The lodging arrangements may have been more than modest but there were no lavish dinners, much less the wine, Fai being a conservative person himself and business class tickets with per diems is a bit too preposterous. Conferences take place around the globe and Fai’s is not the only one that can be singled out as a huge event in terms of money spent. There are many more lavish events happening on Kashmir, sometimes in exotic locales; also on other political issues around the globe as well as over several non political matters. It may sound a bit absurd, sometimes talking about the under-privileged and the victimised sitting in air conditioned five star hotels but some of these conferences often also inspire interesting debates, shedding fresh light on issues and hammer out some very constructive resolutions.   

Fai’s conferences were no different from the regular talk shops around the globe, both in terms of content and the huge spending. Now where does this spending come from? What is the source? Like Fai’s conference circuit, the funders of most conferences may perhaps be unknown. Many get their funds through donor agencies. But who funds these donor agencies? What is the exact circuit in which funds move, from where to where and how?  (America funds Pakistan, much of which money may be spent in creation of and maintaining the gigantic ISI. Is America aware of how its funding is being spent?)  Surely, nobody hires sleuths before accepting an invitation to know the exact journey of the funds but surely everyone is aware that funding comes from somewhere and perhaps not without an agenda, which may not essentially be the agenda of the organiser. On what basis do intellectuals, academicians, political activists and media persons take their decision to attend or not attend. Mostly, it is the face value of the organiser, the success of events organised by them or the list of people invited.

Fai has been blamed for designing and manipulating his conferences to turn them into India bashing platforms. Fai was known to be a pro-Pakistan Kashmiri and surely everyone attending his conferences was well aware of this fact. But his conferences were as much critical of the Indian establishment as some of the conferences organised by India based, often also Indian government backed, groups. For the hawks any criticism of the Indian government and any sympathising with the suffering victims of Kashmir would sound like a separatist agenda or something pro-Pakistan. But having attended some of these conferences, including Fai’s, I have not found much difference in these events organised by those who believe Kashmir to be an integral part of India and those who have a pro-Pakistan ideology. The focus in the resolutions in most of these conferences has always been negotiations through dialogue in accordance with wishes and aspirations of the people and with lot of emphasis on human rights violations of all kinds. In all these events, including Fai’s, one enjoys full independence and liberty to express one’s viewpoint and perspective, and the resolutions are unanimously adopted, whether it is India bashers or Pakistan bashers in majority.

I attended one of Fai’s conference, in 2006, over which I have no regrets. The resolution was drafted by participants and the marathon debate that followed had to be extended because there was no unanimity. Finally the word ‘right of self determination’ was dropped, much to dismay of some, and replaced with ‘in accordance to the aspirations of the people.’ The language of the resolution was never pre-determined, as is the case with many other conferences I have attended. In most of these, it is not the Indian or the Pakistani perspective that emerges, it is essentially a perspective from Kashmir, or sometimes, Jammu and Kashmir. If it indeed was such a farce, why didn’t anybody raise this issue earlier. Why now? In 1999, Indian home ministry sponsored a huge contingent of participants (including the editor of a Jammu based ‘sarkari’ newspaper) and flew them to The Hague to attend a conference by Brussels based Majid Tramboo, who is now under scanner after Fai’s arrest. Wasn’t the home ministry lending some kind of legitimacy to an event that is now believed to have been sponsored by ISI? The other  Conference circuit under scanner is the London based Justice Foundation. In November 2007, Omar Abdullah attended the conference and spoke about Truth and Reconciliation Commission for Kashmir certainly there was nothing wrong in it.

By indulging into an entire debate and hair-splitting about who went to which conference is pointless. The Fai phenomenon reveals only two things that need to be focused on. First, the question of why America has acted now, since Fai had been operating on its soil for 25 years and couldn’t have without some kind of backing, in view of the allegation that his beneficiaries included some high profiled Congressmen and that he funded generously to Obama’s 2008 elections. There is an obvious shift in American policy towards Kashmir and that is the thing that needs debate. Second, indeed is the business of conferences and how they are funded but this must involve all high profiled conferences, without any prejudice. If funds in every conference would be followed, there may be bigger political powers behind many of them. The choice before the participants would then be between attending and airing their views at the platforms they are offered, with a bid to make a contribution in resolving the Kashmir issue, or staying back and articulating their perspectives in drawing room discussions.