The fact that there is an element of surprise over Ghulam Nabi Fai’s arrest after the FBI exposed his connections to Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) reveals that this was probably a sudden brainwave.
The allegation is that Mr. Fai’s Kashmir American Council (KAC) was illegally funded by the ISI to exert influence on the US Congress to swing the Kashmir debate in Pakistan’s favour.
Did the ISI do it? Possible. Did Mr. Fai use this money? Possible. Was the FBI unaware about it all these years? Not possible.
There are a few important aspects to this development:
1. The FBI keeps track of all funds, so why was it quiet all along? KAC is not an underground movement. It puts up petitions; it has a Google groups forum; there is a Facebook page of its affiliates; its conferences are held in university halls and invitation is free. Often dinner is served.
The huge amount of money discovered should prompt the FBI to question the recipients and investigate as to how it has impacted on US policy. Instead, the focus is almost entirely on the Fai-ISI link. Is it possible to forget that the ISI virtually runs Pakistan and that Pakistan is also the beneficiary of American funds? Ergo, the ISI is by default propped up by the US financially and, given the strategic political dynamics, on the ground too. The ISI is nobody’s fool to depend on a Kashmiri organisation in the US to lobby for Pakistan’s interests in the Valley when it already has its people in the region with help from the Lashkar-e-Taiyba and other forces, including a faction of the local Hurriyat Conference.
This is not a simple case of getting the bad guy. It is about creating one more bad guy, and this is notwithstanding Fai’s role in the larger Kashmir issue and sponsorship.
2. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has just visited India and set the tone for Indo-US relations. However, the dog-and-bone attitude continues with an emphasis on American interest and interests in Pakistan. There is most definitely an attempt to influence the talks between the foreign ministers of India and Pakistan scheduled for July 27.
3. The proposed US move out of Afghanistan would necessitate having some presence in the region. In fact, after the Clinton meeting, India’s Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna said, “We have impressed on the United States and other countries who have a major presence in Afghanistan that it is necessary for them to continue in Afghanistan.”
Pakistan is handy for some sado-masochism. Recently, there were video clips in the media of the Taliban killing Pakistani soldiers, in a reversed version of Gitmo.
4. Osama Bin Laden’s killing is being regurgitated on a tangential topic by implying yet again that Pakistani intelligence agencies knew about his abode. There have been arrests that seem suspiciously like red herrings.
5. David Headley is deposing before the courts in the US and providing details of the 2008 Mumbai attacks. Headley’s departure from the US to India is a major goof-up by security forces in that country as well as the Indian embassy. His implicating the ISI would surprise no one except the US in its studied ‘naïve’ state. It is pertinent that Ms. Clinton mentioned these attacks (with only a cursory sympathetic reference to the recent Mumbai attacks only days before she arrived). This is much like Headley who wanted to fight for Kashmir, but ended up taking pictures of Mumbai’s landmarks to help his ‘handlers’.
6. One is aware of the ISI’s crucial strategic role in Pakistan. But, how does the FBI function in the US? Does it push the agenda of the party in power? If so, then its bolt from the blue could be another means to assist the current government in the coming elections.
The major beneficiary of Mr. Fai’s political contributions seems to be Republican Congressman Dan Burton of Indiana. This has been going on for 15 years. For 15 years the FBI has managed to trace the $23,500 contribution to US lawmakers that is legally available with the Federal Election Commission. What made the FBI now want to dig into the over $ 4 million that was illegally brought in?
If indeed it is true, then the onus ought to be on the security agencies and those who were expected to lobby for the Kashmir cause. There are murmurs that Fai is only a front. This is a convenient ruse. You have some evidence, claim other evidence, arrest the man based on these and then leave a small opening for the bigger fish, well aware that the bigger fish are not born that way but plumped up artificially in diplomatic laboratories.
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It is time to ask how exactly lobbying works and whether the United States can take an ethical stand when it is open to such influencing.
The political action committee (PAC) is a blatant forum to ensure that groups can help political candidates and parties, which in turn promise to assist them. Contributors range from real estate agencies, insurance companies, defense contractors and oil companies. There are also special interest groups based on race, gender, nationality, and religion too. In less developed societies this might be deemed as bribery. Legalising it makes the process transparent only to a small extent. If KAC has really managed to get in the millions of dollars illegally, then it suggests that there are loopholes in the system.
However, does this ensure that the lobbying group will truly benefit? Mr. Fai was a US citizen; he organised conferences as many do. There was one held on February 2011 and the list of speakers included Chairman of the Hurriyat Conference Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, Norwegian Member of Parliament Peter S. Gitmark, author and South Asia Analyst Victoria Schofield, Pakistani envoy Husain Haqqani. The others listed as “invited” were the Indian ambassador to the US, Meera Shankar, Chinese ambassador Zhang Yesui and US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Robert O. Blake, Jr.
Rather curiously, reports have made it sound ominous by stating, “Another group which has come under the lens is Indian liberals and so-called bleeding hearts who accepted Fai’s and KAC’s hospitality to attend conferences in US on the Kashmir issue…” The liberals go on junkets for several causes, including plane rides with ministers of the ruling party or the opposition depending on their agenda or that of the organisation they represent. This includes the media. Does their presence help the cause? What is their contribution in real terms?
A peripheral but telling aspect is how some Indians view the unfolding of this episode. A Hindutva group functionary sent an email with an article from the Times of India appended with his comments. He writes, “First, the author calls those who have exposed the Indians (either citizens or those who are of Indian origin) as ‘Indian hypernationalists and right-wingers’ and ‘hardline nationalist’. However, those Indians who attended the seminars organized by the Pakistan’s ISI sponsored front as ‘liberals’, instead of traitors. Clearly he wants to prejudice the minds of the readers. But, you cannot hide the truth. The Indians who were invited to the various programmes were obviously those who would be taking an anti-India position, and not ones who would project a holistic picture. It is absolutely necessary to expose those Indians who attended these programmes. Actually, they themselves should come forward and identify themselves.”
There is nothing secret about this. As mentioned earlier, the KAC’s activities were open. While the person is quick to label those attending such conferences as traitors based on the implication of the ISI role in the council, he assumes they would take an anti-India stand. One must remember that there are several influential Hindutva groups too in the US. There are Jewish lobbies.
Since I was never invited, let me add that it is more important to first find out whether anyone has managed to score points for Pakistan on the Kashmir debate and how much it can change the ground realities. The US is interested in counter-terrorism that affects it directly. Has it ever spoken about lives lost in the state – civilian and military?
On what grounds can the US plan to question Kashmiri separatists when they were given visas to travel for seminars that were in the public domain? Should it not look into its own backyard and see how and why anyone can lobby for positions that it claims to be chary of?
Pakistan has, naturally, denied any role. What is the Indian position? If it cannot take a stand regarding a person of Indian origin only because he is Kashmiri, then it only reiterates the attitude of disenchantment that people in the Valley suffer from.
In November last year Ghulam Nabi Fai had written:
“Once again, Kashmir is giving proof that it is not going to compromise, far less abandon, its demand for Azaadi (freedom) which is its birthright and for which it has paid a price in blood and suffering which has not been exacted from any other people of the South Asian subcontinent. Compared to the sacrifice Kashmir has had to endure, India and Pakistan themselves gained their freedom through a highly civilized process. That is a most poignant truth. But even more bitterly ironical is the contrast between the complex and decades-long agony the Kashmir issue has caused to Kashmiris, to Pakistan and to India itself and the simple, rational measures that would be needed for its solution. No sleight of hand is required, no subtle concepts are to be deployed, and no ingenious deal needs to be struck between an Indian and a Pakistani leader with the endorsement of the more pliable Kashmiri figures. The time for subterfuges is gone. All that is needed is going back – yes, going back – to the point of agreement which historically existed beyond doubt between India and Pakistan and jointly resolving to retrieve it with such modifications as are necessitated by the passage of time.
“That point of agreement is the one India as well as Pakistan, each independently, brought to the United Nations Security Council when the Kashmir dispute was first internationalized. In fact, the Council itself took that point as the basis of the resolutions it later formulated.
“The point was one of inescapable principle- — that the future status of the State of Jammu and Kashmir shall be decided by the will of the people of the State as impartially ascertained in conditions free from coercion. The two elements of a peaceful settlement thus were, first, the demilitarization of the State (i.e. the withdrawal of the forces of both India and Pakistan) and a plebiscite supervised by the United Nations.
“With propositions of such clarity and character accepted, what room was left for the dispute to arise?”
Is this not the position taken by many political groups within Kashmir, by separatists, by the people?
It would be a pity if due to the ISI angle, the real issues will be pushed aside. America has the arsenal to deal with the ISI, but does it have the will? If Mr. Fai is a front, then why only name the ISI people and not the Congressmen who knew what they were expected to lobby for? Culpability in this case lies across the board. It is utterly ridiculous to make this sound like a terrorist plot when the monies have been traced and people of some stature have been consistently raising the Kashmir issue, not just abroad but at home.
And Kashmiris are not pawns of the United States of America that some official can pocket the money and decide its fate.
Farzana Versey is a Mumbai-based author-columnist.