Ghulam Nabi Fai’s arrest by the FBI will put all Pakistani efforts to garner support for the Kashmir issue under a cloud
THE SPY vs spy game being played out between Pakistan and the US has resulted in a windfall for India. The arrest of Ghulam Nabi Fai by the FBI has effectively shut down the business of the ISI-funded event manager. Fai is now damaged goods who no one will touch even if he somehow manages to avoid going to prison. For the ISI, rebuilding the propaganda machinery set up by him in the US is not going to be easy. Henceforth, a suspicion, if not a taint, will inevitably be attached to anyone who tries to lobby on the issue of Kashmir, and getting endorsements from US policymakers and opinion- makers for the ‘Kashmir cause’ will take some doing. From the Pakistani perspective what is worse is that Fai’s arrest has also brought similar ISI-funded propaganda outfits in Europe under the radar, thereby compromising their credibility and hence their ability to mobilise any sort of support for the Pakistani view on Kashmir.
Fai’s real value lay not only in the network he managed to set up in the US but also his ability to rope in many Indians to participate in the annual jamboree he organised to push forward the Pakistani case on Kashmir. The Indian presence lent a degree of respectability to his propaganda stunt and gave it an appearance of objectivity and broad-based consensus between Indians and Pakistanis on Kashmir. The reality was however quite to the contrary, as the events he managed were nothing but one-sided India-bashing occasions, something made apparent from the deliberations in the conferences and the resolutions and declarations issued after them.
Anyone who has been studying Kashmir and Pakistan for sometime would have known where Fai was coming from, and the origin of his money, instructions and agenda. Considering that the ‘luminaries’ he invited claimed to be well clued in on Kashmir and were involved in one capacity or another in the region, it does seem ridiculous when they feign ignorance about Fai’s antecedents. Clearly, those taking such pleas are either naive or think everyone is as gullible as they are pretending to be.
The simple fact is that some of the Indian attendees went because Fai (and by extension, the ISI) gave them an opportunity to bad-mouth India (their shops run on this and their globetrotting depends on this), others because it was an all-expenses paid junket, still others because it gave them a sense of relevance (country be damned), and the rest because it was an opportunity to flaunt their ‘liberal’ and ‘secular’ credentials.
Perhaps, if those feeling embarrassed today had been forthright in admitting that they knew what Fai’s conferences’ were all about and yet they decided to attend because they did not want to let the anti-India rhetoric go unchallenged and wanted to say their bit — a la Subramanian Swamy — their attendance wouldn’t have become such a big issue. But it is utterly preposterous for some Indians with rather dubious credentials to actually claim ownership of the obnoxious declarations of the conferences and in the same breath also claim that they were defending India’s stand.
It is important to not allow the Fai affair to derail bona fide Indo-Pak Track-II initiatives
The one big lesson from the Fai affair is that participants in any Track-II event on sensitive issues must exercise due diligence about the organisers, their source of funds, their politics, their track record and the other participants. At the same time, it is important to understand that no Indo-Pak Track-II can ever be free from governmental interference. Forget about funding Track-II, even getting visas for participants is not possible if the government in India or the ‘agencies’ in Pakistan disapprove of the initiative. But such ‘approval’ cannot, and should not, always be construed as an event being stage-managed or micro-managed by ‘agencies’. There is a lot to merit Track-II interactions between India and Pakistan and it is important to not allow the Fai affair to derail bona fide Track-II initiatives.
Sushant Sareen is Consultant, Pakistan Project, IDSA.