Osama & Fai: whiff of common factor

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  • Published 22.07.11

New Delhi, July 21: Kashmiri separatist leader Syed Ghulam Nabi Fai, arrested by the FBI on Tuesday, and Osama bin Laden might have had the same ISI handlers, sources in Indian intelligence agencies said.

The FBI has named Major General Mumtaz Ahmed Bajwa, who commanded the secretive Security Directorate of the ISI “which oversees Kashmiri militant groups”, as Fai’s most important handler.

The intelligence sources here said it was possible that Fai and Osama had the same ISI handlers — perhaps even Bajwa — till a few years ago.

Fai’s arrest has pushed under the scanner outfits in Europe that claim to fight for Kashmiri independence just like the Washington-based Kashmiri American Council (KAC) that he headed. The most prominent among them is Kashmir Centre, run by barrister Majid Tramboo, with offices in London and Brussels.

These outfits, like the KAC that is accused by the FBI of being funded by the ISI, organise seminars to which they invite journalists and academics from India and Pakistan.

Dileep Padgaonkar, a veteran journalist and head of the Centre’s three-member team of interlocutors for Kashmir, today came under fire for having attended one of KAC’s seminars.

“If it is true that he has known the activities of some such activists (Fai) elsewhere and still he has been doing it, I would say that will be most unfortunate,” said M.M. Ansari, one of the other interlocutors.

The former central information commissioner questioned Padgaonkar’s explanation that he was not aware of Fai’s alleged ISI links. “How can you join a conference without knowing the credibility of the individuals and the institutions?” Ansari asked.

Janata Party president Subramanian Swamy, who attended a KAC seminar in 2003, said in a statement he attended the event in the US Senate building in Washington and delivered a lecture.

“Before attending I called up the Indian embassy.... I was told that it was an anti-India gathering but not that it was ISI-inspired,” Swamy said.

Padgaonkar repeated today he didn’t know about Fai’s ISI links when he attended the KAC seminar in 2005. “I had never met Mr Fai before the seminar. It was an excellent meeting. However, there is an underlying innuendo in these questions being asked of me that I will take a pro-Pakistan stand in my report on Jammu and Kashmir,” he said. The journalist said he “wished to be judged by his report and not judged by these innuendos.”

KAC’s website and its propaganda material on the Internet leaves little doubt of its anti-India position. It issued advertisements demanding donations with slogans like “It is time you help stop Indian state terrorism in Kashmir”.

This was the reason Indian embassy staff in Washington were expressly instructed not to engage with the KAC or Fai.

“Fai was rich, low-key and had wide contacts with influential people. We at the embassy knew that Fai had for long been an agent of the Pakistani government. We were also aware that he was being generously funded by the Pakistani authorities. There were several reports, including in our media, of his close ISI links. I was not, however, aware to what extent the ISI funded or directed him,” said Ronen Sen, India’s ambassador to the US from 2004 to 2009.

Sen said the embassy and the consulates general in the US advised all Indians who sought guidance not to accept invitations from Fai. But no official advisory was issued and the former envoy does not see anything amiss in Indians having attended KAC seminars.

“Indian citizens are free to go anywhere and attend any meetings within or outside the country. We are a free country. Our people don’t need to ask for permissions,” he said.

Fai launched the KAC in 1990, sources said. Within a couple of years, KAC was a familiar name on the Capitol Hill and even corresponded with Bill Clinton who was then President.

In January 1994, Clinton wrote a letter to KAC ostensibly critical of India’s human rights record in Kashmir that Fai made public. New Delhi issued a public statement in response. “We trust that when the US President referred to respect for human rights, it was in the context of gross violation of human rights by militants and terrorists aided and abetted from outside India,” the statement said.

In 1999, the United Nations Economic and Social Council rejected the KAC’s application for consultative status on the grounds that it espoused “secessionist goals”.