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June 18, 1998


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Expat Paks intensify lobbing in Washington

Vaishali Honawar in Washington

Pakistanis based in the United States have been lobbying at a frenetic pace to focus world attention on the Kashmiri issue, even as the Indian community takes it easy.

Thus, apart from regular government delegations visiting Washington to garner support for Islamabad's position on the nukes and Kashmir, private organisations of expat Pakistanis have been chipping in, with their own organised lobbying.

The Ohio-based Pakistani American Council, thus, managed to draw up an impressive array of key figures for a show in Washington last week, roping in 26 US Congressmen to publicly support that country's point of view.

The Congressmen, both Republican and Democrats, came out openly in support of Pakistan, holding to the line that its nuclear tests were a "defensive action", while placing the blame for the nuclear arms race squarely on India.

While the presence of prominent anti-India representative Dan Burton (Republican, Indiana) was a given, other prominent attendees included Senators John Warner, Tim Johnson, Tom Harkin, Carol Moseley-Braun and Charles E Grassley, and Representatives Dale E Kildee (D), Sherrod Brown (D), James A Traficant, Jr (D), David E Bonior (D), James P Moran (D), Dana Rohrabacher (R), Harris W Fawell (R), Edolphus Towns (D), John Shimkus (R), Howard Coble (R), Vito Fossella (R), Thomas C Sawyer (D), Major R Owens (D), Danny K Davis (D), James A Leach (R), Nick Smith (R), Peter T King (R), Dennis J Hastert (R), Nydia M Velazquez (D) and Sheila Jackson-Lee (D).

Further, at the PAC's annual meeting on June 9, Republican Senator Harkin announced that a resolution would be introduced in the Senate seeking UN intervention in the Kashmir issue.

Coordinating the expat efforts has been Pakistan's ambassador to the United States Riaz Khokhar, whose previous posting was in New Delhi.

At another PAC-organised meeting at a Washington hotel on June 10, US Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs Karl Inderfurth was the keynote speaker. Former congressman Charles Wilson, who is now the leading lobbyist on Capitol Hill for Pakistan, was prominent among the speakers.

Under the PAC aegis, another prominent personality now busy drumming up support for a plebiscite on Kashmir is British MP George Galloway, who has been honoured by Islamabad with top national awards.

The most obvious outcome of all the hype drummed up by Pakistan, both officially and unofficially, is that the American media has been openly sympathetic to the Pakistan point of view, portraying it as a babe in the woods threatened by the big bad wolf next door.

Asked if any similar NRI-propelled lobbying efforts have been initiated on India's behalf, Shiv Shankar Mukherjee, minister of press at the Indian embassy in Washington, could only cite a bunch of sympathetic emails and faxes from the Indian diaspora.

What makes the situation worse is that Indian officials in Washington seem totally clueless, in contrast to the coherence of the Pakistani stand. Asked how India planned to counter the proposed resolution seeking UN intervention in Kashmir, a senior official at the Indian embassy only had vague answers.

The PAC's claims should not be taken seriously, he said, adding that Pakistan "cannot interfere with another country's politics". He also said that India was "not into resolutions against Pakistan."

When it was pointed out that India's own diplomatic initiatives seemed to be on the back burner, the official admitted to a measure of concern about what he termed India's "slow" lobbying efforts. However, he said, Indians have been active on Capitol Hill, with Ambassador Naresh Chandra meeting ranking members of Congressional committees.

"There is a lot of understanding in the Congress" about India, Mukherjee said. But when pressed, he too admitted that there had not been too many delegations from India to lobby on the country's behalf. Why? "That is the embassy's job -- that is what we are here for," was the reply.

Interestingly, when asked about the actual programme drawn up for Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission Jaswant Singh during his recent visit States-side, Mukherjee did not have a clue -- this, despite the fact that it had been splashed in all Indian newspapers that Singh was coming to Washington to meet Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott.

Meanwhile, the Kashmiri American Council headed by Dr Ghulam Nabi Fai has also been making its voice heard in the media in support of a referendum in Kashmir.

In a meeting with Washington Post columnists last week, Fai waxed eloquent on the importance of including the Kashmiri people in any decision on the future of that state, and detailed "the atrocities" the people of that troubled land face daily at the hands of the army and terrorists.

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