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'ISI didn't get its money's worth'

August 13, 2011 00:50 IST

Retired veteran diplomat Howard Schaffer, author of the acclaimed The Limits of Influence: America's Role in Kashmir, has said, "If the Inter-Services Directorate or some other organ of the Pakistan government has been footing the Kashmir American Council's bills, as seems so obvious, it is hard to conclude that they have been getting their money's worth."

Schaffer, who was the lead panelist on the session on 'India-Pakistan Relations: Breaking the Deadlock over Kashmir' at the last International Kashmir Peace Conference last August on Capitol Hill, organised by KAC's Executive Director Dr Ghulam Nabi Fai, who was arrested last week, said, "For all its efforts, the council's lobbying has had minimal success in persuading the Clinton, George W Bush, and Obama administrations to change their basically hands-off diplomacy on the Kashmir dispute."

Federal Bureau of Investigation agent Sarah Webb Linden, who filed the affidavit against Fai, said, "I estimate that the total amount transmitted from the government of Pakistan through Ahmad and his funding network to Fai and the KAC since the mid-1990s is at least $4 million."

"It is regrettable that the charges against Fai have been raised at a point when US-Pakistan relations face a host of problems far more consequential than alleged wrongdoings by Pakistan's lobbyists in Washington," Schaffer said. "The two sides should be focusing on trying to resolve or manage these major issues, not getting distracted by the Fai sideshow. It would be even more regrettable if the allegations have been trotted out as a way for the United States to hit back at Pakistan in general and the ISI in particular. The situation is too serious for this kind of game playing."

Schaffer said, "The high point of the Council's annual calendar of events has for years been a much-publicised meeting and roundtable in a Congressional office building on Capitol Hill that draws a sizeable number of  Congressmen, Kashmiri political leaders — all of an anti-Indian flavor — American and South Asian academic specialists, Kashmiri-Americans, ethnic journalists, and Pakistan embassy officials.

Views that do not accord with the Pakistan position are not often voiced. Over the years, these sessions have become set-pieces, occasions to vent against India's human rights violations in the part of the state it administers and to renew demand for the US administration to take a more active role in bringing about a Kashmir settlement on terms favorable to Pakistan."

He said, "In these sessions members of Congress play bit-parts. Some of them, such as Representative Dan Burton, Indiana Republican, are familiar with the Kashmir issue, or at least Pakistan's interpretation of it, and apparently feel strongly about it. But many others appear to have come to the sessions with scant awareness of the nature of the dispute. They customarily appear briefly, read prepared scripts, and hastily depart."

At the KAC conference last August, Congressman Joe Pitts, Pennsylvania Republican, another regular at these parleys and another beneficiary of Fai's largesse to his campaign coffers — now allegedly being funneled through Fai by the ISI — called on President Barack Obama to keep his campaign pledge to help resolve this dispute between India and Pakistan.

Pitts recalled, "During his campaign, President Obama suggested that the US should help resolve the Kashmir crisis. I heard one suggestion that they have a special envoy for Kashmir. And, we need to develop that kind of expertise in our own government — in our own state department. I wholeheartedly agree and hope this administration will engage productively on this critical issue."

Pitts spoke about his visits to Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and Pakistan and said he had founded the Kashmir Forum "and we support the idea of self-determination for the people in the area."

Burton and Pitts have now said they had no idea that the funds they received from Fai were at the behest of the ISI.

Burton told The New York Times that he was 'deeply shocked' because he had known Fai 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.' Burton said he would donate the funds provided to his campaign to the Boy Scouts of America.

At last year's conference, the two highly charged attacks on India were made by an Indian journalist and an Indian-American academic — Harinder Baweja and Professor Angana Chatterji.

Investigative journalist and author Baweja, who was among the speakers from India, that also included Tapen Bose, filmmaker and human rights activist; Ved Bhasin, editor-in-chief, Kashmir Times, among others, confessed that when it comes to the Kashmir problem it was hard to be objective.

Baweja, editor, news, for Tehelka.com, who noted that she has been 'in and out of Kashmir at least a 100 times in the last 20 years,' since her first visit in 1989, said, 'I keep going back to Kashmir because there's something about the Kashmir problem — and this is a huge admission to make — that sometimes makes me lose my objectivity as a journalist. The reason for that is that Kashmir is a humungous human tragedy.'

Baweja argued that the main reason that a resolution of this problem had been elusive was because of 'India's mind-set.'

'Yes, India is a victim of terrorism; yes, there are foreign mercenaries who come into Kashmir, (and) the government of India loves to point a finger in Pakistan's direction, loves to point a finger at the ISI, but as journalists we know the ground realities. And, if there is a problem in Kashmir, it is because it was created by subsequent governments, both in Srinagar and Delhi, and if the ISI is meddling in Kashmir, it's because India muddied the water in the first place,' she said.

She said while the 'hard-core foreign militants outnumber the Kashmiri militants, the reason why the common Kashmiris, the common masses, still do not view India as democratic is because they continue to see the government as being their oppressors and their tormentors.'

Chatterji, a professor of anthropology at the California Institute of Integral Studies, circulated a detailed paper titled Militarisation with Impunity: A Brief on Rape and Murder in Shopian, Kashmir that she had authored with Gautam Navlakha of the Economic and Political Weekly, New Delhi. She placed the onus firmly on the Indian government to ensure that as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had pledged, there would be 'zero tolerance' for human rights abuses in Jammu & Kashmir.

'A will to peace in Kashmir requires an attested commitment to justice, palpably absent in the exchange undertaken by the government of India and its attendant institutions with Kashmir civil society,' she said. 'The premise and structure of impunity connected to militarisation, and corresponding human rights abuses, bear witness to the absence of accountability inherent to the dominion of Kashmir by the Indian state, and a refusal to take seriously the imperative of addressing these issues as the only way forward to a just peace.'

She called for demilitarisation in the valley and emphasised that it must not just be a 'token withdrawal;' that should also be couple with the release of political prisoners and the repeal of laws that 'have enabled the security forces in Kashmir to act with impunity.'

Schaffer said, "For those familiar with Fai's operations, the case has an 'I am shocked, shocked…' aspect that calls to mind Captain Reynaud's memorable outcry deploring gambling in the film Casablanca.

Since the KAC was established in 1990, the year when anti-Indian political upheaval in the disputed state returned the Kashmir issue to world attention, US Kashmir-specialists have assumed that the council's activities were sponsored and paid for by Islamabad. The allegation that these activities have included small and unpublicized campaign contributions to sympathetic American politicians comes as no particular surprise."

Schaffer, who sits on the board of the Kashmir Study Group, said, "In seeking to promote the case for Kashmiri self-determination, Pakistan's long-standing position — and anathema to the Indians — the KAC has focused its lobbying attention on administration officials, members of Congress, the media, and influential private Americans. Anyone seen to have a direct or indirect role in fashioning Kashmir policy is almost certain to have been approached by the energetic Dr Fai, often with a visiting Kashmiri in tow, and given a pro-Pakistan interpretation of developments in the state."

According to the FBI affidavit, Fai had originally been selected by the ISI 'because he had no overt ties to Pakistan.'

The FBI said that according to informants, 'the ISI created the KAC to propagandise on behalf of the government of Pakistan with the goal of united Kashmir,' and one of its witnesses disclosed that 'of the statements Fai makes, 80 percent are provided by the ISI for Fai to repeat and disseminate verbatim. The other 20 percent of the KAC's messaging consists of Fai's own ideas, which have been pre-approved by the ISI but not provided by them.'

The affidavit said that in the course of executing the searches, investigators found the '1999 Strategy Document for the Kashmiri-American Council, Washington, DC USA' and documents with similar titles for 2000, 2001, 2005, and 2006.

These documents described KAC's plans to provide information to executive branch officials, use Congress to highlight the issue of Kashmir, offset the Indian lobby, and increase political pressure on both the US administration and the Indian government.

Aziz Haniffa in Washington