By Boris Volkhonsky
A couple of days ago, a court in Alexandria, Virginia, sentenced a naturalized U.S. citizen of Pakistani origin Ghulam Nabi Fai to two years in jail and three years on probation.
Mr. Fai was the head of a so called Kashmiri American Council, a Washington-based non-governmental group founded in 1990. Before his arrest in July 2011, for more than two decades he had advocated the cause of Kashmiri people fighting for independence and had been in touch with various politicians and public figures. There were even rumors that the Council was among the donors of Barack Obama’s campaign in 2008.
The crime Mr. Fai was charged with was not the campaign itself, but the fact that he concealed that the funding for the Council was mostly coming from Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) which provided him about $3.5 million for his efforts.
It’s always difficult to comment on such issues as separatism and territorial disputes. The judgment whether the people in question are “freedom fighters” and “champions of the liberation struggle” rather than “separatists” and “terrorists” basically depends on the old principle of “our SOBs” first formulated by Franklin Roosevelt in regard to Anastasio Somoza (“Somoza is SOB, but he is our SOB”). But even putting aside the core of the longest-dating of all unresolved territorial disputes – the one about Kashmir, it is worth going deeper into some related issues.
First of all, the Kashmiri American Council has existed and openly operated in the U.S. for over two decades. And until recently it was completely OK with the U.S. authorities and law enforcement. Still, those people are hardly as naïve as not to know that Pakistani NGOs, especially those advocating political issues along the official Pakistani line, are more than likely to be affiliated with the most powerful Pakistani intelligence service, the ISI. Then why was Mr. Fai arrested only in July 2011, if the crime he was charged with dates back to the early 1990s?
The answer is obvious. It was the year 2011 that marked the worst ever strain in U.S. – Pakistani relationships. After the elimination of Osama bin Laden in May 2011 on Pakistani soil by U.S. Marine SEALS without even notifying Pakistani authorities of the covert operation, both politicians and the military/intelligence community in Pakistan expressed their outrage and called for severing the ties with their American counterparts. The arrest of the alleged ISI agent in the U.S. was a kind of a reciprocal step against the disobedient former ally.
Another aspect worth discussing is the attitude of the U.S. authorities towards what may be called “subversive activity” of foreign NGOs on American soil, and their own NGOs (or those funded from the U.S. sources) operating elsewhere in the world.
Remember what a roar a rose early this year when over 40 NGO workers, including 19 Americans were charged with illegal activity in Egypt. Or, how vehemently the U.S. denied any involvement in the protest movement in South Indian Tamil Nadu state when in late February Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh accused several NGOs of being financed from foreign sources, including the U.S. What was intended to look like spontaneous public protest against nuclear energy, in fact turned out to be a corporate campaign aimed at pushing out Russian companies from the Indian nuclear energy market and ultimately substituting them with American and other Western companies.
Indeed, “all these guys are NGOs, but some of them are our NGOs”.
But it should be kept in mind that the “Fai case” creates a precedent. And based on the precedent, all NGOs being fed from the U.S. in alien countries now should be treated in a similar way. So, when a high ranking U.S. diplomat decides to stir up some kind of activity with NGOs anywhere in the world and meddle in the affairs of the host country, he (or she) should remember that they will enjoy diplomatic immunity, but their activity may be used against their friends whom they so recklessly breed.
Boris Volkhonsky, senior research fellow, Russian Institute for Strategic Studies