It is just one of life’s little ironies. While the United States is setting conditions to restore the suspended $800 million in aid to a poverty-stricken, failing Pakistan, its military-controlled Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) was discovered illegally spending money in Washington to influence American foreign policy regarding the disputed Kashmir region.
The ISI is the agency suspected of harbouring Osama bin Laden for years in a military town in Pakistan until he was killed by American Navy SEAL commandos last May. With relations at an all-time low between the two countries because of the Pakistani military’s suspected involvement in concealing bin Laden, the United States had suspended the aid payment.
After an FBI investigation, two US citizens of Pakistani origin were charged this week in connection with the illegal donations. Syed Fai, 62, and Zaheer Ahmad, 63, are facing up to five years in prison for never having registered as agents of Pakistan’s government, as required by law, in order to legally make such donations. The money, as much as four million dollars, was disbursed through the Kashmiri Administrative Council (KAC) which Fai headed. Fai, who has been arrested, was also head of the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated Muslim Students Association (MSA) between 1984 and 1988. Ahmad resides in Pakistan.
“Mr. Fai is accused of a decades-long scheme with one purpose – to hide Pakistan’s involvement behind his efforts to influence the U.S. government’s position on Kashmir,” said Neil MacBride, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia where Fai lives. “His handlers in Pakistan allegedly funnelled millions through the Kashmir Center to contribute to U.S. elected officials, fund high-profile conferences, and pay for other efforts that promoted the Kashmiri cause to decision-makers in Washington.”
The FBI also said there was no evidence the recipients knew the donations were illegal.
The dispute between India and Pakistan over Kashmir has been called “the longest jihad.” Kashmir is a Muslim-majority state that had a Hindu monarch when the Indian subcontinent was partitioned into India and Pakistan after bloody riots between Hindus and Muslims in 1947 at the end of British colonial rule. When Kashmir’s ruler did not join Pakistan, the new Muslim state sent irregular tribal fighters, who thought they were fighting an anti-Hindu jihad, into Kashmir to annex it by force.
But the invasion only resulted in Kashmir’s ruler seeking military assistance from India, which said it would only help if Kashmir joined India. With the agreement made, Indian forces then drove the jihadis back, but not completely out of Kashmir. The conflict settled into a stalemate that has erupted twice since then into wars between the two states. Pakistan lost both conflicts.
According to United Nations (UN) Resolution 47 that ended the 1947-48 war, a plebiscite was to be held to let the Kashmiri people decide their state’s future. But since Pakistan has refused to withdraw its troops, as stipulated in the UN resolution, from the part of Kashmir it controls, India has used this as an excuse not to hold the plebiscite.
Seeing it could not defeat India and annex Kashmir by conventional warfare, the Pakistani military embarked on a campaign of terrorism in the early 1950s to subvert Indian rule.
“In 1951, the first major, low-grade terrorist initiative by Pakistan was the calibrated destruction of telephone lines, bridges and guesthouses in J & K (Jammu and Kashmir),” writes Sreeram Chaulia in his review of Praveen Swami’s book: India, Pakistan and the Secret Jihad. “…There were striking resemblances between the fundamentalist Islamist beliefs of these pioneers and those of a successor generation of jihadis. Besides sabotage, the early brigades bombed temples and mosques in 1957 to incite Hindu-Muslim violence…”
After a disputed state election in 1989, the insurgency intensified. Local terrorists, supported by Pakistan, joined jihadists trained in camps in Pakistani Kashmir in a guerrilla campaign meant “to bleed India.” Atrocities were committed by both the jihadists and the Indian security forces. The violence hit its peak in 2001 when 4,507 people died, but the insurgency ended in failure.
Since then, security in Kashmir has improved so much that by 2009 terrorist activity had declined 90 percent from 2001. With Israeli help, Indian authorities have refined their counter-terrorism techniques so effectively that 2,400 terrorists were killed between 2005 and 2009. One hundred and thirty of their leaders were also killed or captured, leaving “the terrorists either leaderless, or commanded by men with little experience.”
Along with the hard jihad of conventional and irregular warfare, the Pakistani government has also been engaged in a soft jihad to conquer Kashmir. In the soft jihad, Pakistan’s strategy is to force India through international pressure to hold the long-delayed plebiscite mentioned in UN Resolution 47. By forcing a plebiscite, the Pakistani military believes Kashmir’s Muslim-majority electorate will vote to join Pakistan.
To conceal its involvement in influencing American policy towards the plebiscite goal, the Pakistan’s government set up a group of “straw donors,” who gave money to the Kashmiri Center and American politicians on its behalf. The Pakistanis also paid tens of thousands of dollars to the British politician George Galloway for his assistance.
“The goal of the group, according to internal documents cited by the FBI, was to persuade the United States government that it was in its interest to push India to allow a vote in Kashmir to decide its future,” the _New York Times_ stated. “The group’s strategy was to offset the Indian lobby by targeting members of the Congressional committees that focus on foreign affairs with private briefings and events that would draw media attention and otherwise to elevate the issue of Kashmir…in Washington.”
Although politicians of both parties received these illicit funds, with President Obama even having received a $250 campaign donation, Dan Burton, a Republican representative from Indiana, appears to have benefited the most, according to a search the _New York Times_ did in the Federal Elections Databases. Called “a champion of Kashmiri causes” in Congress and an “inveterate critic” of India, this largesse, Burton’s detractors believe, is the reason for his pro-Pakistani stance. Burton was at one time also supportive of an independent Sikh state carved from India, which would have meant India’s virtual dismemberment. He also once sought a 25 percent cut in aid to India for its poor human rights record.
The other big recipient of the ISI-sponsored donations was the National Republican Senatorial Committee. Unsurprisingly, according to a profile of Fai, he is a “Distinguished Member of the Republican Senatorial Inner Circle” and was awarded the “Republican Senatorial Medal of Freedom in 2005.
“On October 12, 2007, he was presented with the American Spirit Medal, the highest and most prestigious honour given to an individual,” the profile reads, adding Fai’s articles have appeared in some of America’s most prestigious newspapers, such as the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post.
Not bad for a Pakistani government agent who, according to the FBI, has been active the past 25 years and met undetected “more than 4,000 times” with his handlers since June, 2008. An informant familiar with the scheme was responsible for bringing it to a halt.
This affair of the illegal donations raises questions that should cause the US government to stop and take stock of both itself and the Pakistani military. The most obvious is how this “long-term conspiracy,” as the FBI calls it, could have remained undetected for so long. Another is how someone representing a jihadist strategy that would weaken India, an American ally, could have reached right into the Senate. Fai would not have received those senatorial awards for nothing. And lastly, how many other governments are attempting to illegally buy influence in Congress through this system of what has been called “legalised bribery.”
With the bin Laden affair, the Pakistani military proved it is no ally of the United States. It contemptuously concealed the terrorist leader, while cynically extracting billions of dollars in American aid and modern weapons. It has allowed Pakistan to become the headquarters for worldwide jihad and with these recent charges concerning illegal donations it confirms once again that nothing Pakistan does in regard to America can be trusted. In the future, all relations with this country should proceed from this premise.
Stephen Brown is the contributing editor for Frontpagemag.com. He can be reached at [email protected].