Return of the lobbyist

Photo: AFP
Photo: AFP

While a dramatic Bangkok rendezvous of National Security Advisors and Foreign Secretaries of India and Pakistan has restored the long-stalled dialogue, the extended bilateral freeze witnessed a renewed consolidation of the actors on the Kashmiri separatist scene in the Valley and abroad. And among them is Ghulam Nabi Fai, the Srinagar-born American lobbyist for Kashmir’s freedom movement, who, over the past six months has renewed his efforts to draw the US and global attention to Kashmir, a role he seemed to have lost following his 2011 arrest by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) for receiving funds from Pakistan’s ISI.

Fai is now the secretary general of World Kashmir Awareness, a mutant of the Kashmir American Council, of which he was the executive director.

On 7 December, Fai held a Kashmir Peace Conference in New York with a limited number of speakers. The participants in the conference were former attorney general of the US, Ramsey Clark, a British author, biographer and military historian Victoria Schofield, and writer, lawyer and political theorist Suchitra Vijayan, among others.

It was the first time since his arrest that Fai held a conference in the US, which, however, was a rather subdued affair compared to his annual jamborees attended by high-profile US politicians across the Republican-Democrat divide, besides academics, human rights activists, and journalists, from India, Pakistan and Kashmir.

However, the conference is not the only Kashmir event which indicates Fai’s return to the lobbying scene. On 29 August, just three days after the collapse of NSA-level talks, Fai, sitting by the side of former Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (POK) Prime Minister Barrister Sultan Mahmood Chaudhary, announced a Million Man March on Kashmir in New York on 25 October. The march, which drew a large gathering of people, began from the Indian High Commission office and concluded at the United Nations building.

Fai had also invited separatist leaders Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Mohammad Yasin Malik to participate in the event. However, they couldn’t go as their passports were impounded by the government.

Similarly, on 1 September, Fai was a part of the Pakistan Independence Day festival at Fairfax, Virginia which was kicked off by the Governor of the State of Virginia Terri McAuliffe. In his address, Fai called for building support for the active involvement of the US to help resolve the Kashmir dispute in accordance with the aspiration of the people.

The lobbyist has also renewed his practice of issuing regular statements to the media, which basically calls for India and the world community to come forward for the settlement of Kashmir. But his statement on 6 August, titled ‘Kashmir Awareness Campaign’ was a how-to-do-it manual for spreading the word on Kashmir.

The message, purportedly addressed to all its recipients through email, sought to provide them “with a plan to mount an educational and awareness campaign in support of self-determination in Jammu & Kashmir and to enlist the support of foreign embassies in your country, NGOs (both international and national) and media (both international and national) to persuade India and Pakistan to include Kashmiri leadership in any future dialogue that will lead to the settlement of the Kashmir dispute (sic).”

The message offered a detailed line of action on interaction with foreign embassies, NGOs and media under their respective sub-heads. Under the sub-head ‘How to Request a Meeting’, Fai laid down a step by step process of engagement.

“A letter requesting a meeting with foreign embassies in your country, NGOs and media should be sent at least two weeks ahead of time,” counselled Fai. “The letter should identify a specific date, time block for the meeting. Without specificity, the meeting would be postponed indefinitely.”

World Kashmir Awareness also has a website which opens with an appeal for contributions for the flood victims in Kashmir. The website also carries media reports on Kashmir, and includes videos of the separatist protests.

These developments show Fai’s stepped up bid to emerge from the taint of his ISI links and resurrect his lobbying career. In 2011, before his arrest for being a Pakistani spy, Fai was the most prominent US face on Kashmir.

He had founded the Kashmir American Council in 1993 with an objective to tilt US policy towards the settlement of Kashmir. Though two more centres came up along the way in London and Brussels — headed by Nazir Ahmad Shawl and Abdul Majid Trumboo — they were far outmatched in ambition and the influence by the Kashmir American Council. This made Fai the most visible international face on Kashmir together with moderate Hurriyat chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq.

He had a plush two-room office on 16th Street in Dupont Circle in Washington DC not far from the White House and the Congress. Hanging on its walls were the pictures of him with Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton and George Bush.

Born in 1949 in Srinagar, Fai was briefly a member of Jamaat-i-Islami before moving to Saudi Arabia and from there to USA for higher studies where he ultimately settled down.

But then in 2011, all of this unravelled as the FBI suddenly discovered that Fai had illegally received around $4 million from the ISI over two decades to influence US policy on Kashmir — including contributing campaign donations to members of the Congress and presidential candidates.

“Words possibly cannot define the remorse for what I have done to my family and to the interests of the United States of America,” Fai said in his Youtube speech following his conviction and sentencing by a court in Alexandria, Virginia on 30 March 2012 for two years.

However, Fai served only 16 months of his sentence, thanks to a motion moved by the prosecution calling for his prison sentence to be reduced. He was released on 27 March 2014 and has ever since maintained a low profile. However, of late, Fai has made distinct moves to return to his role as a Kashmir lobbyist. The Million Man March and the Kashmir conference were his first big outings on the global Kashmir scene.