South Asia

Profile: Ghulam Nabi Fai

Ghulam Nabi Fai pictured in May 2011 at a conference on Kashmir Image copyright AFP
Image caption Mr Fai denies organising anti-India demonstrations on behalf of Pakistan

Two men are facing charges in the US of operating an illegal lobbying group for the Pakistani government. One of the two is 62-year-old Ghulam Nabi Fai, who denies the charges. The BBC's Zubair Ahmed met Mr Fai in 2010 and profiles him here.

The bespectacled small man in suit and tie sitting behind the desk looked a bit older than the one in blown-up pictures of him with Bill Clinton and George W Bush hanging on the wall. In one such photo he stood confidently between his wife and Hillary Clinton.

The pictures clearly indicated the man was well-connected.

Mr Fai had aged since he posed for these pictures with America's distinguished personalities. But his resolve to work for the "self-determination" of the state of Jammu and Kashmir had not ebbed.

The large two-room office on 16th Street in Dupont Circle in Washington DC was well-appointed and not far from the White House and the Congress, where he claimed to have many friends. A Republican die-hard, he hoped for the demise of Barack Obama in the next presidential election.

Sitting in his office, he said he said he was busy organising a three-day conference in DC, to which he had invited academics, human rights activists, journalists and those who supported the Kashmiris' cause for self-determination.

There was no way one could have predicted his arrest eight months later.

He seemed to be friends with the high and mighty of US politics, on both sides of the party divide. During the conference, several high-profile Republican congressmen expressed their support for Dr Fai's work on the Kashmir issue. He introduced me to some of these congressmen during the conference.

Expenses

And yet his arrest has not come as a huge surprise to some in the US.

At the conference, I heard whispered voices question who was paying for the big expenses incurred. Some suggested he was working for the Pakistani government and money was not an issue for him. After the conference I put this question to him. He laughed out loud and said: "These are perceptions. We work on donations."

He told me he wanted India's point of view on Kashmir better represented at the conference. "I invite the Indian embassy people and Indian journalists but they don't respond."

Image copyright AP
Image caption Mr Fai says he is solely concerned with winning self-determination for the people of Kashmir

It was true - most participants came from Pakistan and the part of Kashmir it administers, with only a few well-known Indians and Kashmiri Hindus.

The Indian journalist community and diplomats had long suspected Dr Fai was working for Pakistan, and avoided attending his conferences.

Not only that - several Pakistani journalists I knew in Washington gave him a wide berth, believing him to be too close to the Pakistani establishment in Islamabad.

He was seen with the former Pakistani Information and Broadcasting Minister Mushahid Hussain during the conference.

US-based Indians have often described him as a Pakistan agent, accusing him of organising anti-India protests in Washington and New York at the behest of Pakistan.

But when I asked him to respond to such allegations he flatly denied them, saying his main objective was to draw the attention of the US administration to the plight of the Kashmiri people.

And after his arrest, a Pakistani journalist suggested that he had been a victim of American retaliation for the arrests of men in Pakistan following the killing of Osama Bin Laden in Abbotabad.

He said that, at most, Mr Fai was guilty of being close to Pakistani elements in the government who supported the Kashmiri cause.

US citizen

Mr Fai was born in 1949 in Indian-administered Kashmir. He was briefly attached to the Jamaat-e-Islami, a right-wing Islamic organisation, in Kashmir.

He left India decades ago after graduating from Aligarh Muslim University in northern India, and worked in Saudi Arabia for some years before moving to the US for higher studies in 1977.

He gained a doctorate in Mass Communications from Temple University in Pennsylvania and stayed on in the US. Ten years later he became a US citizen.

Mr Fai founded the Kashmiri American Council with a view to making American politicians and congressmen, as he put it to me once, "aware of the Kashmir issue". He has been addressing congressmen, academics and journalists on Kashmir over the last 30 years.

Some American academics seem to have a high regard for him and his endeavours.

But he is despised by the Indian community. He longs to visit India, a country he said he had not visited for many years. During an interview he told me last year he would love to "visit India and meet Indian leaders".

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