Here’s what the FBI said after arresting Dr. Syed Ghulam Nabi Fai on July 19t: that ‘The Pakistan military plotted to tilt US policy’ and that Fai has been an ISI agent assisting in trying to tilt US policy in favor of Pakistan’s position on the disputed territory of Kashmir, between India and Pakistan. Over two decades he and another accomplice, also of Pakistani origin have received and distributed $ 4 million towards congressional and senate campaign contributions in the US; Fai was arrested for not having registered himself with the Justice Department, as an agent of a foreign country, as required under US law.
Nothing at all implausible about the accusation, is there? After all, everyone knows that industries, corporations and, most of all, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), make routine contributions to influence US policies. The AIPAC, in fact, has an announced budget exceeding $ 350 million annually and unofficial estimates place its annual campaign contributions at more than twice their actual budget; but then Pakistan is not Israel! The U.S. Congress and Senate have been up for grabs for decades! Fai’s cardinal errors were a) not registering himself and of course b) getting caught!
But something smells bad. If I recall correctly, Benazir Bhutto hired a lobbyist for Pakistan, as did Musharaf and the lobbyist’s annual fee was close to $ 2 million. $ 4 million over two decades; doesn’t that seem insignificant? The contributions mentioned in Fai’s indictment range from $250 to a maximum of $ 4000. What is more, if he has been involved for two decades, is it possible that the FBI did not know? To repeat the questions posed with regard to the ISI when Osama was discovered in Abbottabad: was the FBI complicit or incompetent? Or were Fai’s activities so inconsequential that arresting him was not worth it? My gut feeling is the last option; but then, after two decades, why his arrest at this juncture?
From all that I have heard of the activities of the Kashmir American Council, Fai was very active in organizing high profile conferences and round table discussions on the future of Kashmir. Apparently he was not short of funds. However, whenever the question of resources arose, Kashmiris in India, Pakistan, and the US were considered the main contributors. Nonetheless, since he had a pro-Pakistan leaning, it would not surprise me at all if he was being secretly funded by the ISI; but to what end?
That the ISI funded his high profile, no-expense-spared conferences should surprise no one; that he donated peanuts from his funds to campaigns of some congressmen and senators; so what?
As if Fai wasn’t enough, the New York Times, pulled off another scoop. On July 23 it carried an article titled “Pakistan spies on its diaspora, spreading fear”. According to this article, a Mr. Muhammed Tasleem who was an attach? in the Pakistan Consulate in New York was secretly spying for Pakistan and posing as a FBI Agent. The FBI discovered Tasleem’s activities last year but, instead of arresting him, Leon Panetta, then CIA Director, had a quiet word with Gen Pasha and Tasleem was whisked away back to Pakistan.
The article, with not one, but three by-lines, was based on interviews with unnamed Pakistani-Americans or Pakistanis in the US, who told these reporters the truth, on condition of anonymity, how the ISI terrifies them in the US. That’s right, under the very nose of the FBI, CIA, NSA, and the thirty odd intelligence agencies in the US, the ISI terrifies Pakistanis on US soil and has been doing so for decades. And yet, they report, compared to the Russian and Chinese, the ISI operations “are less extensive and less sophisticated”.
And Michael Brenner had me scared of the CIA!
Discussions in Pakistan, since Fai’s arrest, had become heated but since the news on Tasleem broke, they are almost amusing. Our right wingers are chortling with glee at the ‘ugly parting of ways’ with the US; as far as they are concerned, the uglier, the better. US lovers are worried about the consequences.
Analysts among them are also divided. Some are of the view that the US has reached the end of its tether and the current ‘face-off’ is the final card, preparatory for the final divorce. This category of analysts is of the view that by threatening a pro-India position in future Pak-India debates over the status on Kashmir; the US is telling Pakistan to come to heel or face this, among other consequences!
Other analysts point to the fact that the US’ pro-India stance was a ‘given’. They also contend that these are empty gestures and, when it comes to pulling out of Afghanistan, the US is fully aware of Pakistan’s significance. The marriage, therefore, however turbulent, will endure for the time being.
My view is that the US has taken Pakistan for granted for so long that the mere thought of it being prepared to stare the US down in a face off is unbelievable; and that too under the Zardari-Gillani duo. The US is piqued; its dog won’t come to heel. What is more, its pet dog is mending fences with Iran and Afghanistan. If it succeeds, this ‘declaration of independence’ could become a contagious disease.
I am also not sure whether it is the US’ last card but it is certainly close to the last one.
Pakistan, on the other hand, quite surprisingly, seems finally to have decided to break free of the deadly US embrace, whatever the price.
While the Iran-Pakistan rapprochement and the decision to finally undertake the construction on Pakistan’s side of this long delayed pipeline project, in the teeth of US opposition, is among the most prominent of Pakistan’s ‘declarations of independence’, others, perhaps far more significant, relating to the Middle East, have gone unnoticed.
Despite Saudi and US pressure, Pakistan’s response to providing military assistance to the house of Saud has not just been lukewarm, Pakistan is clearly temporizing; the obvious excuse being the domestic commitment of its armed forces. Naturally therefore, the Pakistani president returned empty handed from his recent visit to the Saudi kingdom.
Far more significant is Pakistan’s position on Libya and Gaddafi. Pakistan continues to support Gaddafi and insists that the US is exceeding the UN mandate in its use of force to oust Gaddafi. Despite repeated calls from Washington, Islamabad has stood firm. Impressed by the unexpected support, Gaddafi is dispatching a key aide to Islamabad this week.
It does seem that Pakistan is done mating with the Praying Mantis.This will not be an amicable divorce. This is a pet dog that refuses to come to heel.
Pakistan’s ‘declaration of independence’ may not be a written one, nor as powerfully moving as the one authored by founding fathers of the US, but it finally seems to have become visible. Hopefully, Pakistan will not have to fight a prolonged war with the US military, though it will have to win the domestic war, in which the US is likely to continue support to Pakistani ‘Contras’.
Shaukat Qadir is a retired brigadier and a former president of the Islamabad Policy Research Institute. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org