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July 22, 2011

Dr. Fai’s arrest tit-for-tat move by the US

By Abdus Sattar Ghazali

The US-Pakistan relations took a new twist Tuesday when Washington arrested the Kashmiri leader, Dr Ghulam Nabi Fai, on charges of working for the Pakistani spy agency, Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) which purportedly gave $4 million to Dr. Fai for years to lobby for the Kashmir issue.

However, Pakistan Today newspaper reported that the arrest of Washington-based Kashmiri American Council (KAC) President Dr. Fai, seems to be an act of retaliation by the US in response to Islamabad’s refusal to set free Dr Shakil Afridi, a local physician arrested in the wake of the May 2 Abbottabad operation on charges of spying for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

The paper quoted unidentified sources as saying that during July 13 visit of the ISI chief Lt General Ahmad Shuja Pasha to Washington US officials demanded the release of Dr. Afridi but General Pasha refused and the Americans decided to arrest Dr Fai on charges of working as an operative for the ISI.

This was the second US allegation against the ISI within three weeks. On July 4 Washington accused the ISI of involvement in the kidnapping and killing of senior journalist Saleem Shahzad. The allegations come amid increasingly strained ties between the United States and Pakistan. It is also a clear message to Islamabad and the Pakistan Army to bring flexibility in their stance and accept the US demands, otherwise such actions could be taken in future as well.

In an affidavit filed in court, the FBI said Pakistan has spent at least $4 million since the mid-1990s lobbying the U.S. Congress and the White House through Fai and the Kashmiri American Council, also known as the Kashmir Center, where Fai served as executive director. The KAC was founded in 1990.

Dr Fai was born in 1949 in Indian-administered Kashmir. He was briefly attached to the Jamaat-e-Islami, a right-wing Islamic organisation, in Kashmir. He left India decades ago after graduating from Aligarh Muslim University in northern India, and worked in Saudi Arabia for some years before moving to the US for higher studies in 1977.  He gained a doctorate in Mass Communications from Temple University in Pennsylvania and stayed on in the US. Ten years later he became a US citizen. Dr Fai founded the Kashmiri American Council with a view to making American politicians and congressmen, as he put it to me once, "aware of the Kashmir issue". He has been addressing congressmen, academics and journalists on Kashmir over the last 30 years. Some American academics seem to have a high regard for him and his endeavors.

The FBI affidavit

The FBI affidavit detailed the alleged scheme in which Fai's organization received up to $700,000 annually from Pakistan to make campaign contributions to U.S. politicians, sponsor conferences and other promotions.

"Mr. Fai is accused of a decades-long scheme with one purpose -- to hide Pakistan's involvement behind his efforts to influence the U.S. government's position on Kashmir," said Neil MacBride, U.S. Attorney for Eastern Virginia.

The Justice Department has also charged (in absentia) a second man, Zaheer Ahmad, with recruiting dummy donors for the KAC, through whom the ISI routed the funds. Zaheer Ahmad is an American of Pakistani origin.

One unidentified confidential witness told investigators that Pakistan's powerful military spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence Agency, was behind some of the money Fai received, according to the FBI affidavit. A second confidential witness said the spy agency had sponsored and controlled Fai's organization and had been directing him for the past 25 years, the court papers said.

The FBI alleged the Dr. Fai lobbied at the Congress and the Administration on behalf of Pakistan without declaring himself as the a Pakistani agent. The FBI affidavit said Fai had denied that he had lobbied, saying instead he was involved in public relations.

Federal election records showed Fai had given $23,500 to U.S. political candidates since 1997, including $250 to President Barack Obama's presidential campaign as well as $7,500 to Republican Representative Dan Burton of Indiana. Congressman Joe Pitts, a Pennsylvania Republican, also received donations from Dr Fai. However, the Justice Department said that there was no evidence that any elected officials who received the contributions from Fai or his group knew that it came from the Pakistani government.

Setback to Kashmiri independence cause in Congress

Dr. Ghulam Nabi Fai’s arrest was a shock to pro ‘self-determination for Kashmir’ Congressmen who received donations from his group.

Commenting on Dr. Fai’s arrest, Congressman Burton said he was “deeply shocked” by the arrest of Mr Fai, because he had known him for 20 years and “in that time I had no inkling of his involvement with any foreign intelligence operation and had presumed our correspondence was legitimate”. He said he would donate the funds provided to his campaign to the Boy Scouts of America.

Congressman Pitts visited South Asia in 2001 and 2004, where he met Pakistani and Indian leaders and called for a ceasefire. He also introduced a resolution in 2004 calling for President George W. Bush to appoint a special envoy to help negotiate peace. A spokesman for Mr Pitts said he had donated $4,000 — an amount equal to the donations his campaign received from Mr Fai’s group — to local charities in Pennsylvania on Tuesday.

For at least 15 years, Congressman Burton has been a champion for Kashmiri causes in Congress, appealing to Presidents Bill Clinton and Obama to get more involved in attempting to mediate a settlement between India and Pakistan over Kashmir. He has also endorsed allowing the Kashmiri people to vote on their own fate.

The mountainous region of Kashmir has been a flashpoint between India and Pakistan for more than 60 years. It is potentially one of the most dangerous disputes in the world and in the worst-case scenario could trigger a nuclear conflict, according to BBC. The UN has maintained a presence in the disputed area since 1949. Currently, the LoC is monitored by the UN Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (Unmogip).

In March 2010, Congressman Dan Burton said he would work to form a Kashmir caucus in the US Congress to highlight the need to resolve the long-standing Kashmir issue. He told a gathering in Washington he believed that both India and Pakistan should work to resolve this issue under the UN resolution passed in 1948. “We in the US believe that this resolution is active though we don’t speak much about it,” he added.

Media reports included quotes from the speeches Burton made in Pakistan, saying in one such speech that “since 1948, the people of Kashmir have been offered and promised a plebiscite and that’s something that has not happened…. Here we are 61 years later, and we are still hoping that one day there will be peace and tranquility in that beautiful part of the world”.

In another speech, highlighted in the US media, Burton noted that India had deployed hundreds of thousands of troops in Kashmir who were “keeping everything under wraps, patrolling the streets and there are still some horrible tragedies that are taking place. I heard of gang-raping of young women, I’ve heard of murders and tortures”.

Congressman Dan Burton Burton was also quoted as chiding the Obama administration for failing to engage in the region. “During the presidential campaign President Obama pledged to appoint a special envoy on the region and declared that solving Kashmir crisis was one of his critical tasks. So far this has been a promise unfulfilled,” Burton said.

Interestingly, Dr. Fai’s arrest came at a time when US Secretary of State was visiting India. US-based Indians have often described him as a Pakistan agent, accusing him of organizing anti-India protests in Washington and New York at the behest of Pakistan.

Reaction in Pakistan – Who is CIA agent in Pakistan

Dr Fai's arrest and the allegations against the Pakistani government sparked an angry response from Islamabad. "A demarche was made to the US embassy in Islamabad today to register our concerns, in particular the slander campaign against Pakistan," the ministry of foreign affairs said in a statement.

Pakistani media highlighted the arrest of Dr. Fai with such TV shows: Who is CIA agent in Pakistan. This was the title of DAWN TV network’s program Reporter. The program guests were Retired Air Vice Marshal Shahid Latif, Member Parliament of PPP Palwasha Khan and Zahir Shah Shirazi, Dawn Bureau Chief in Peshawar. The anchor, Arshad Sharif, asked his guests: how the US financial aid is being spent in Pakistan? Who is getting this aid and who is CIA’s agent in Pakistan?

The participants were of the view that foreign funding is coming to maintain the unrest and terrorist activities in Pakistan. They said that CIA network was working in Pakistan as is indicated from the Davis Raymond case. This network is working with the help of local people. Since we have poverty, hence it is easy to hire local people.

Zahir Shah Shirazi pointed out that the CIA has itself claimed that it does not need ISI’s support to operate in Pakistan because it has its own network. For example, for Drone attacks, CIA operates in tribal territories. Ground intelligence is provided by Pakistani sources for Drone attacks, which means that CIA agents are present in FATA to facilitate drone attacks. CIA is also accused of supporting Pakistani Taliban who are destabilizing the country.

Another important question raised on Dr. Fai’s arrest is that the Kashmir American Council was established in 1990. It has been working in Washington DC for more than two decades. Now suddenly the FBI realized that it was working for ISI. Surely, there is something behind this claim

Abdus Sattar Ghazali is the Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of America.