By Swapan Dasgupta
As the London correspondent of an Indian newspaper in the mid-1990s, I went for a meeting on Jammu and Kashmir in one of the committee rooms of the Palace of Westminster. There was nothing spectacularly important about the meeting and my only reason for going was that an Indian diplomat pressed me to attend. Those were the days when J&K was on the boil and western governments were inclined to be quietly sympathetic to the separatists.
The meeting would have been spectacularly unmemorable had it not been for a group of about 10 so-called Kashmiri activists who started shouting slogans and forced the security staff to intervene and clear the whole room. The Indian diplomat was understandably dejected and angry but helpless. It had taken just 10 determined and rowdy activists to win a minor victory for Pakistan.
I was reminded of the incident last year when, on a visit to London, I observed a group of some 50 noisy demonstrators picketing the Indian High Commission in Aldwych. Later that day I asked an Indian diplomat who was knowledgeable about such things what all the fuss was about. Surely Indo-Pak diplomacy had gone beyond these silly bouts of slogan shouting in London?
The diplomat’s answer was cynically revealing. “It’s a mug’s game”, he replied. The Pakistan mission, he indicated, were under a compulsion to keep its local supporters happy. As a matter of routine, a busload or so of protestors were brought in to shout slogans for a few hours. When the show was over, these guys retired to a side street a few blocks away where a Pakistani handler would dole out a small fee and a carton of cigarettes to each protestor. “It’s completely purposeless but a part of the Pakistani drill”, my diplomat friend assured me.
I guess Ghulam Nabi Fai, the director of the Kashmiri American Council, who finds himself in trouble with the FBI for violating the provisions of the US Foreign Agents Registration Act, was also part of the “drill” in Washington DC. The US Justice Department has claimed that Fai’s organisation, which also has branches in London and Brussels, received nearly $4 million from the Pakistan Government since the mid-1990s. It is also alleged that Fai operated on the instructions of Islamabad for the past 20 years and interacted with his intelligence “handlers” more than 4,000 times since June 2008. The allegations would suggest that Fai was a field operative for the notorious ISI.
Fai’s activities were a little more subtle than the hired rabble in London that mouthed anti-India profanities for the sake of a carton of cigarettes. He organised seminar and conferences and lobbied lawmakers to influence US policy on Kashmir—a legitimate activity if you consider that his primary allegiance was to Pakistan.
As part of his promotion of Pakistani interests, Fai assiduously courted those Indians in India who would help serve his interests. He made it a point to invite select Indians to his annual conferences in Washington—the business class tickets and generous hospitality being sweeteners. Naturally, his interest was focussed on those Indians whose views converged with the interests of Pakistan. He wasn’t bothered with Indians who felt that Jammu and Kashmir was an integral part of the Indian Union, even if some of them were unhappy with New Delhi’s handling of the civil unrest in the state. He was interested in a particular type of Indian—those who were critical of the Indian state but, at the same time, were also well-connected figures in the larger Indian Establishment. The so-called “human rights activists” and “independent” journalists were high on Fai’s list of priorities.
This is not to suggest that every Indian who disagreed with the official position on Kashmir did so with a view to making Islamabad happy. That is clearly not the case. However, the contrarian would have to be a prize ass or wilfully obtuse to not realise that Pakistan would gleefully lap up their dissent for its own narrow advantage.
The issue, therefore, is not whether a Justice Rajinder Sachar or an editor of a mainstream publication held certain contrarian views that democratic India allows them the right to do. The issue is whether or not they were aware of Fai’s ability to use those views to promote the interests of Pakistan in a third country. All the evidence suggests that those Indians who travelled to the US to participate in a Fai-organised programme did so with the full awareness of the larger agenda of the Kashmiri American Council. The greed of a junket proved so overwhelming that they were willing to aid the interests of an enemy nation—and lets have no doubt that Pakistan is an enemy nation with which India has been in a state of undeclared war.
There is a difference between a junket and an ISI-sponsored junket. Those who can’t appreciate the difference don’t deserve to grace public life in India.
The legitimacy Fai’s Indians gave to Pakistan’s war of a thousand cuts resulted in more than diplomatic embarrassment to India. It helped prolong a conflict and has resulted in the spilling of innocent blood.
To condone the transgressions of Fai’s Indians as simple naiveté or a colossal misjudgement is to be excessively indulgent. To not bat for India isn’t an offence; to play for Pakistan is an act of betrayal.
Sunday Pioneer, July 24, 2011