April 03, 2020
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My Own Fai Moment

How I once shared the dais with a man the ISI funds

My Own Fai Moment
Illustration by Sorit
My Own Fai Moment

Before the buzz about the Fai case in the US becomes muted, let me claim my moment of notoriety, more so because the reports on the matter have found me too insignificant to notice. My rendezvous with Ghulam Nabi Fai, who the FBI alleges is an ISI-backed lobbyist corrupting important personages on Capitol Hill, happened in Brussels, without the dead letter boxes, the watchers, the minders and the tails, the stuff of intriguing spy thrillers. I shared the dais with him in full public view at the European Parliament in what was grandiosely called the ‘Global Discourse on Kashmir’, inaugurated by James Elles, chairman of the all-party group for Kashmir in the European Parliament, and jointly organised by this group, Fai’s Kashmir Centre, and Majid Tramboo, who the FBI says is also ISI-backed.

But before I hear the seething and hissing and the murmured “Ah, here’s another hated liberal offering up his soul to be manipulated by the Pakistani devils”, as the tone of many media disclosures on leading Indian intellectuals availing themselves of Fai’s platform seems to suggest, let me quickly add that I was also accompanied on this jamboree by a former major-general and a former brigadier of the Indian army, a former chief secretary of Jammu & Kashmir and a former member of the National Security Council from the NDA regime, all of whom unflinchingly defended the official Indian position on the Kashmir dispute. The former chief secretary’s presentation was frozen in time, denying that there was any alienation or any dispute in Kashmir but for what foreign infiltrators and the occupation by Pakistan of Indian territory had caused.

I don’t know why most of the intellectuals who attended Fai’s conferences in the US sound so defensive, saying they wouldn’t have gone if they knew of his ISI connections. If ISI were the unspoken sponsor of these events, it had chosen sophisticated diplomacy over crude manipulation, and was prepared to hear all shades of international opinion on Kashmir, including harsh words for Pakistan and itself. As for me, I did some research on Tramboo and his organisation before going to the conference. There was a lot of material on the net alleging that Tramboo had ISI connections and funding. Some of my European contacts had also heard of all this, Tramboo being quite active in the British human rights circuit. His London-based organisation, the International Council for Human Rights, had lobbied in the UN on causes as varied as that of Afro-Americans, Puerto Ricans, the Gullah Guchee people from islands off the North Carolina coast, indigenous Alaskans, Palestinians, even the Dalits of India. Its board of directors has persons representing some of these communities and the only visible Pakistani faces on its advisory board are Riaz Khokhar, Pakistan’s former foreign secretary and former ambassador to India, and Dr Z.U. Khan, a former member of Pakistan’s PMO. The advisory board even has Anne Speckhard, linked with NATO’s anti-terror section. Fai, Tramboo and Nazir Shawl, who runs the London-based Kashmir Centre, obviously don’t practise the old cloak-and-dagger stuff. What the FBI’s affidavit points to is the ISI’s intervention in public diplomacy in the full glare of not only the agencies of the countries where they were operating, but also of the radar of Indian agencies, as suggested by allegations in the public domain about the three even back in 2008. If they or their alleged ISI backers violated the laws of the lands they were operating in, it was the job of the authorities of those countries to act against that. In fact, Tramboo’s ‘Global Discourses on Kashmir’ were such high-profile events in the European Parliament that one of them was attended by Gen Pervez Musharraf when he was Pakistan’s president. The year I went, the event was attended by Riaz Khokhar, Mushahid Hassan, then chairperson of the foreign affairs committee of Pakistan’s National Assembly, and Sardar Atique Khan, then prime minister of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. Tramboo’s coup was making the European Parliament overturn the draft of its report on Kashmir to incorporate Pakistan’s stand in the final version.

Anyway, I had shared my coming across allegations about Tramboo’s ISI connections with my then boss in Outlook (Hindi), to whom the invitation had originally come. We together thought this provided all the more reason for a journalist to go to Brussels and get a peek into the thick of things. Even intellectuals and ex-state functionaries close to the Indian establishment and reflecting its various strands of views were quite keen to avail of the platforms provided by Fai and his buddies. If Dileep Padgaonkar attended Fai’s event before becoming the government’s interlocutor, his colleague Radha Kumar, and G. Parthasarathy, the anti-Pakistan hawk, had attended Tramboo’s event in 2006.

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