There are two aspects to L’Affaire Fai, the case relating to the arrest earlier this week and the proposed prosecution of Ghulam Nabi Fai, the head of the Washington DC based Kashmiri American Council (KAC) on a charge of working as an agent of influence of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).
2. It has been alleged that his organisation was in receipt of large funds over the years from the ISI for making contributions to the electoral funds of some US politicians and for holding international seminars on the Kashmir issue some of which were attended by journalists and other opinion-makers from India. It has also been alleged that their travel and stay expenses were met by his organisation out of the funds received by him from the ISI.
3. The first aspect relates to the US angle---why did the USA’s Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Justice Department choose to act against him now after having closed their eyes to his apparently illegal activities for many years? Does the US have an agenda in proceeding against him now? I have covered these questions in my earlier article on this subject. (http://www.southasiaanalysis.org/papers47/paper4610.html )
4. The second aspect relates to the Indian angle. Many questions arise here. The first is, have the Indian participants in Fai’s ISI-funded seminars violated any Indian law calling for any legal action against them. No, they have not. Their claim that they were not aware of his ISI background can’t be just dismissed as an after-thought.
5.The second is, was it wrong or unwise on their part to have participated in the ISI-funded seminars organised by him? Yes, their actions do show a lack of wisdom. While his ISI background may not have been known to them, his reputation as a person of dubious credentials with a Pakistani agenda was widely known for years.
6.There have been detailed reports on him carried by the Indian print media itself over the last 20 years. Their own journalist colleagues based in Washington DC had been reporting about Fai from time to time. Here is a man promoting the agenda of Pakistan, India’s adversary with which we have fought three wars and which has been sponsoring terrorism against Indian citizens, inviting Indian opinion-makers to his seminars in an ill-concealed attempt to use them to earn respectability for himself and his organisation.
7. Was it wise on their part to have let themselves be thus used by him? It was definitely not. Any right-thinking person should have no difficulty in admitting this. The third question arises from this. Do the Indian participants owe an explanation to the public of this country regarding their actions? The word explanation is strong and inappropriate, but they definitely have an obligation as Indian citizens to welcome and facilitate a detailed enquiry into the matter in order to see whether their unwise actions have in any way compromised national interests.
8. The last question that arises is, whether the fact that they are journalists gives them any protection from public and legal scrutiny of their actions. It does not and should not. They did not attend the seminars at the instance of their media houses to cover them as an event for their media houses. They went there as individual Indian citizens and hence their actions should be subject to the same public and legal scrutiny as those of any other Indian citizen. They cannot claim and should not be allowed to claim any special protection from such public and legal scrutiny by virtue of the fact that they are journalists.
9. The arrest of Fai and the filing of an affidavit against him by the FBI is only the beginning of L’Affaire Fai. More details regarding his and the ISI’s methods of operation could come up during the trial if he does not make a plea bargain with the FBI. The Indian participants in his seminars should seek to avoid any future embarrassment by taking the initiative in informing the public and the Government about the details of their participation. Such actions are normally not required in respect of participation in foreign seminars. But once it turns out that a seminar was funded by the ISI and organised at the instance of the ISI by one of its agents of influence, prudence demands that one takes the initiative in informing the public and the Government of the details.
10. Times Now and the CNN-IBN news channels need to be complimented for throwing the spotlight on this important development. Times Now had a detailed debate on this anchored by Arnab Goswami and the CNN-IBN by Suhasini Haidar.It is time for NDTV to follow their example. (22-7-11)
( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @SORBONNE75 )