For more than two decades Dr Ghulam Nabi Fai has globally been the most prominent advocate of Kashmir ’cause’. Last week America’s FBI arrested the Kashmiri-American from his Virginia residence. Accused of “a long-term conspiracy” of being an agent of Pakistan government in USA, fai faces five years imprisonment if convicted.
Dr Ghulam Nabi Fai was arrested July 19 under USA’s Foreign Agents Regulation Act (FARA), a law designed to ensure Washington knows the underlying source of information and identity of persons who attempt to influence American policy. Fai is accused of thwarting this process by concealing that Islamabad was funding and directing his lobbying and public relations efforts in the USA. McJunkin, FBI Assistant Director, said foreign governments trying to influence the US by using unregistered agents threaten America’s national security.
Charges announced by attorneys Lisa Monaco, Neil MacBride, and James McJunkin in a 44-page affidavit suggest that Fai was handled and used by Islamabad, by ISI to be precise, “to influence the US government’s position on Kashmir”. His handlers – with whom he has had 4000 communications since June 2008 – have funnelled an estimated four million dollars since mid-1990s. Part of this money would go as contributions to the elected officials, fund high-profile conferences, and “pay for other efforts that promoted the Kashmiri cause to decision-makers in Washington.”
The affidavits allege that Kashmir American Council (KAC) that is also known as Kashmir Centre was an ISI outpost besides two others operational in London (UK) and Brussels (Belgium).
Sarah Webb Linden, an FBI Special Agent and part of the investigating agency’s counter terrorism squad at Washington DC, has written the affidavit submitted to the court of Magistrate Judge Thomas Rawles Jones Jr.
The charges are based on two key witnesses. One has testified saying he was aware of the money actually being funnelled from Islamabad. Another has told investigators that KAC was created by the ISI and Fai was being funded and his activities directed by the Pakistani intelligence agency for the last 25 years.
“You are aware that we have been working together for the cause for over a decade now,” Fai wrote in an email to a senior ISI official in 1995, according to reports appearing in US media. “All these years, I have closely worked with you and others who came before you. It has taken us much time, energy, dedication, strategy and planning to achieve our common cause.” The affidavit offers details of the codes that were used in the frequent communications.
The arrest, however, has not come as a surprise. The FBI sleuths have been questioning Fai for many years. The US Justice Department statement suggests that he was questioned about these relationships in March 2007, March 2010 and again as late as March 2011. In fact, in 2010 he was notified of possible obligations to register himself as a foreign agent. But every time, Fai denied his proximity with the ISI or any other Pakistani official.
A high profile and influential activist, Fai is accused of seeking approval for his yearly budgets from Pakistan government. In 2009, for instance, the affidavits suggest, he sought ten million dollars for contributions to US Congressmen.
The mode of the alleged money laundering, American newspapers reported, suggested hawala pattern transactions. The FBI has executed numerous search warrants to “straw donors” who are not named in the court documents but mentioned as codes. Individuals making contributions to KAC would get it reimbursed in Islamabad. However, investigators acknowledge that KAC was running on fairly small yearly budgets got some genuine contributions as well.
“There is no evidence that any elected official who received financial contributions from Fai or the KAC was aware that the money originated from any part of the Pakistani government,” the FBI statement reads. Investigators have dug out lot of details about the “contributions” Fai has made.
The Washington Post reported that Federal Election Commission (FEC) records show Fai and Ahmad donated at least $30,000 to campaigns and political parties, including a $250 donation from Fai himself to President Obama two days before his November 2008 election. The biggest beneficiaries were the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which received $9,500 from Fai, and (Don) Burton, who received about $10,000 from Fai and Ahmad since 1997, FEC records show.
Burton, the founder of the House Kashmiri caucus, represents Indiana and is an outspoken critic of India’s actions in Kashmir. He has travelled to the region on trips sponsored by Fai’s group. According to the Washington Post, he “has long advocated for a settlement to the (Kashmir) conflict that would favour Pakistan over India.”
The FBI estimates suggest Fai’s group received up to $700,000 per year from Pakistani government sources of which around $100,000 might have gone as political contributions, both private and secret, the American newspaper reported.
The Congressmen have reacted sharply. An aide for Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign told the Post that the contribution ($ 250) received from Fai would be returned.
Pennsylvania Republican Joe Pitts, who after his 2001 and 2004 visits to India and Pakistan, had introduced a resolution calling for President George W Bush to appoint a special envoy to help negotiate peace between the neighbours, has announced that he has already donated $4000, he had received from KAC, to local charities in Pennsylvania.
A “deeply shocked” Burton who has known Fai for 20 years announced he would donate any illegal contributions to the Boy Scouts of America. “I had no inkling of his involvement with any foreign intelligence operation and had presumed our correspondence was legitimate,” Don Burton reportedly said. “For as long as I’ve known him, Dr Fai has been either a permanent legal resident of the United States or a citizen, and as such any political contributions I may have received from Dr Fai over the years are completely legal.”
People who know Fai closely say he has been a sharp but soft spoken gentleman for most of his life. Post militancy, he has remained one of the frequently referred names in the Kashmiri separatist discourse, even at times being projected as their ‘envoy’.
Originally a resident of Wadwan village in the central Kashmir district of Budgam, Fai was influenced by Jamat-e-Islami (JI) in his student days and later became a fulltime worker of the politico-religious party. Occasionally he would write in vernacular newspapers, especially the Urdu daily Aftab, under the pen name Fay Budgami that eventually became Fai after his migration to US. Very close to JI founder President (late) Moulana Said-ud-Din Tarbali, the young village boy did his masters in Philosophy from Aligarh Muslim University (AMU). With Moulana’s help, he got admission and a scholarship in the Um-ul-Qura University in Mecca (Saudi Arabia) where he studied for two years. From there Fai went to Temple University, Pennsylvania and earned a PhD in journalism.
In 1983, Fai briefly returned to Kashmir and went back to Saudi Arabia where he had a short stint as a teacher. He then went again to USA and joined the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) as a full-time worker. Around 1987 he became a US citizen. After remaining separated from his Kashmiri wife for a long time, Fai married a Chinese woman Chang and had two children from her.
When armed militancy broke out in Kashmir, Fai founded KAC and became its Executive Director in 1990. He soon expanded his influence and travelled around many countries. For the last two decades he has remained a star lobbyist prominent in almost all the Kashmir-related activities across the world.
He has travelled more than 40 countries since 1990, the most recent being Astana, the capital Kazakhstan where the Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC) had its last meeting. He was also known to have been a close confidant of then ‘pro-Kashmir’ Assistant Secretary of state Robin Raphel. Prior to his March 2000 visit to India, former US President Bill Clinton gave Fai a special audience.
Off late, however, Fai’s major activity was restricted to holding an annual conference on Kashmir at Capitol Hill attended by Kashmir experts and writers from across the world especially from India and Pakistan, besides US elected officials.
Fai, now 62, lives in Fairfax, in an elaborately landscaped brick house set back from the street in a quiet suburban neighborhood near the upscale Fair Oaks section of the county.
The FBI charge sheet suggests the agency was aware of Fai’s connections and his source of motivation. The formal arrest, however, came at a time when bilateral relations between Washington and Islamabad have reached a new low, particularly because of Osma bin Laden’s killing in Pakistan.
The relations between the two countries have remained under strain since the arrest of a CIA operative, Raymond Davis, in Pakistan earlier this year and were further complicated in the wake of increasing tensions in Pakistan over the continuing drone attacks. Pakistan has kicked out more than 100 US military advisers in recent weeks as Obama administration announced delaying $800 million in military aid. This came within days of Obama’s policy announcements surrounding Afghanistan.
Fai’s arrest was preceded by ISI chief General Shuja Pasha’s visit to Washington where he met his counterparts, apparently to streamline ties. The ISI has sustained a very complicated relationship with CIA. Despite being allies in the war against terrorism, Washington has frequently accused ISI of working against the US, including running double agents against the CIA. Interestingly, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was in Delhi meeting the foreign ministry officials when the Kashmir lobbyist’s arrest was announced.
Analysts have sought to link the series of incidents preceding Fai’s arrest. Commentator Mohammad Sayeed Malik sees the arrest a “significant shift in American position over the Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan”, which, he believes, is “clearly a shot in the arm of India and a severe jolt to Pakistan.” He believes Fai’s alleged crime and his arrest is a tactic. “It has been a familiar tactic of America to arm-twist their ‘client’ states for undisclosed but thinly disguised objectives. South Korean and Israeli citizens based in America have been hauled from time to time for improper lobbying or spying; to make them ‘behave’. Now it looks to be Pakistan’s turn to be treated so,” he noted.
The American action was received with sharp criticism in Kashmir. The arrest of the star Kashmir lobbyist was denounced by most resistance leaders. Syed Ali Geelani, who heads the inflexible Hurriyat Conference called upon Kashmiris here and living in Pakistan and other countries across the world to protest the arrest after the Friday congregations. His conglomerate has also called for a state-wide shutdown on Saturday. The octogenarian separatist believes Fai’s arrest was an act of India’s ‘conspiracy’ aimed at “weakening our struggle”.
“Mr. Fai has been active for last 32 years highlighting the plight of his people,” Geelani said in a statement. “Because of his unflinching advocacy of the Kashmir cause at the international level, he had become an eyesore for India.”
Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, who heads another faction of Hurriyat Conference, also reacted sharply saying it was tragic that Kashmiri resistance leadership and diaspora was continuously being blamed for commercial interests in their advocacy.
“It (the arrest) has caused a setback to the peaceful efforts to solve the Kashmir issue. Hurriyat wants to clear it that Kashmir struggle is indigenous, not at the behest of any country or organisation,” Mirwaiz said.
The pro-independence Jammu-Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) echoed the same sentiment and condemned the U.S. charge as going against the democratic path of nonviolence Fai advocated. “His arrest is against ideals of democracy and peaceful reconciliation. This is also against the U.S. government’s approach and thinking.”
Condemning the arrest, Shabir Shah told reporters: “We always believed that US being a democratic country will respect the democratic struggle of Kashmir but (with the arrest) it seems it is untrue.”
Nayeem Ahmad Khan, another separatist described Fai’s arrest and being branding an ISI agent as “an attack on Kashmiri interests” and said he will remain an “envoy of Kashmir”. Others who reacted to the arrest included Agha Sayeed Hassan, Zafar Akbar Bhat, JKLF® and Mahaz-e-Azaadi leaders. Agha was with Fai in Kazakhstan for the OIC meeting.
The FBI says it is still investigating the case and there is a possibility of more charges being slapped against Fai. However, from commentaries over the issue so far it seems unlikely that Fai will be accused of being a Pakistani spy.
In Kashmir, the security agencies have started following the case up. Reports from Delhi suggest that Ministry of Home Affairs may allow security agencies to question individuals who have been attending Fai’s annual Capitol Hill conferences. Apart from a couple of individuals from J&K, the list of such participants includes a number of people from the mainland India – Dileep Padgoankar, Justice (retd) Rajinder Sacher, Goutum Navlakha, Kuldip Nayar, Ms Rita Manchanda, Angana Chatterjee, Harinder Baweja, Prof Kamal Mitra Chenoy and Parful Bidwai. Fai has organized 11 such conferences so far.
Padgaonkar, who heads the three member team Government of India’s official interlocutors on Kashmir, told reporters that he attend one KAC conference. “But that was a long time back when I had not even the faintest of idea about his affiliations with ISI,” he was quoted as having said. “Because Google was not available then.”
The state police chief Kuldeep Khuda said investigations are on to find out if there are cases pending against Fai. The police are waiting for the interrogation of Fai before following up the case in Kashmir. “He (Fai) has been figuring in lots of things in the past, like what US has already conveyed, the diversion of ISI funds for anti-national activities in India and particularly in State,” Khuda said.
Fai’s arrest and its possible fallout has all the makings of a landmark in the history of Kashmir conflict and resistance to status quo in the disputed region. Kashmir will closely monitor Fai’s trial in the USA where the Justice Department reminded the public “that an indictment and criminal complaint contain mere allegations and that defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.”
What is lobbying?
It is an act of attempting to influence decision making by governments at different policy drafting or implementing levels by individuals, lawmakers, groups, volunteers and vested interests. They can approach court to seek legal redressal on issues of concern. Unlike in the Indian subcontinent, it is an organized sphere of activity in most of the Western countries. It is treated as a legitimate democratic exercise so that individuals and organizations reasonably affected by government decisions can have their say too. It is generally referred as the “revolving door influence’.
In the UK, lawmakers are recruited by lobby firms and lobbyists are recruited by lawmakers as well. A section in British policy making establishment is keen to regulate the issue to bring transparency in the area of this activity. In the USA, it is legal but the lobbyists and their firms need to be registered and declare to the government about their clientele. Since 1998, 43 percent of the 198 Congressmen who left government to join the private sector have registered themselves as lobbyists. The Americans set up an elaborate system of permitting lobbying and distinguishing it from advocacy and non-profit organizations. In 2007 there were over 17,000 federal lobbyists based in Washington, DC. The EU is a new breeding ground of lobbyists. There are 15,000 based in Brussels alone with 2600 having permanent offices.
But in the context of India and Pakistan, it is the diplomatic lobbying that is of utmost importance. Both countries have been investing heavily since 1990 to influence the decision making in the US and the UN. Usually, Islamabad and New Delhi have contracts with lobbying firms.
New York Times reported that Pakistan, over the years, has had official lobbyists in Washington, spending nearly $3.5 million on four lobbying firms over the last two years. In Foreign Policy, Laura Rozen wrote in 2009 (in the context of keeping Kashmir out of Richard Hoolbroks mandate) that Indian lobbying firm BGR – retained by New Delhi since 2005, cost it $ 2.5 million besides an additional $291,665 that the embassy paid to firm Patton Boggs under a six-month contract. Islamabad, then, had spent about $1,175,000, on lobbying during 2008 to firms Dewey and LeBoeuf, and Locke Lord.