The Sentencing of Dr. Ghulam Nabi Fai: Setting the Record Straight
On March 30, 2012, Dr. Ghulam Nabi Fai, the man the international diplomatic community has known for more than 20 years as the ambassador for Kashmir to the United States, stood before Judge Liam O’Grady in a federal court in Virginia and received a sentence of two years for the part he played as Director in funding the Kashmiri American Council, using contributions that allegedly had skirted certain tax regulations regarding how they may be made to a non-profit organization. The technicalities involved in the sources of that money and how it ended up in the bank accounts of the KAC are still too complex for me to really understand, and probably not worth going into anyway, but its clear from the outcome that some violation of tax laws did occur and Dr. Fai was willing to take the rap for it. In fact, both he and his wife believe sincerely that the judge was quite fair in handing down the sentence. Although Dr. Fai’s reputation was sullied momentarily by charges that he was a spy for the Pakistani ISI and illegally lobbied members of Congress and two presidents, none of that proved true, and such charges were voluntarily dropped by the prosecution.
What is quite dismaying, however, is the mincemeat that was made of this sentence by the press. Despite the rather mundane issue of so-called tax dodging, many in the press continued to allege falsely that he had been convicted of being on the payroll of the ISI, convicted of being an unregistered lobbyist, convicted of advocating and propagating the Pakistani position on Kashmir, and convicted of trying to influence the American government for the benefit of Pakistan. So it is important that we set the record straight.
Although initially charged under the FARA act [FARA refers to the Foreign Agents Registration Act] as an unregistered agent of Pakistan, Dr. Fai was never convicted on this allegation, which seemed clearly intended to support negotiations the U.S. and Hillary Clinton were engaged in with India at the time. Politically motivated and entirely fraudulent, the U.S. government believed that Dr. Fai’s reputation and career were expendable for whatever trite and meaningless advantage it may have offered in the politics of deal making.
As his attorney, Nina Ginsburg stated during the hearing, “Judge, I think Mr. Kromberg’s arguments to the Court are appalling. [Federal investigators] have a lot of words that were captured in intercepts, 20 years of intercepts, hundreds of thousands of interprets, and Mr. Kromberg cannot stand in front of this Court with one example of a statement, a public statement by Dr. Fai, a writing by Dr. Fai, a position taken at a conference he sponsored, not one, not one word, that is anything that could be characterized as propaganda for the Pakistani government.
“It is an outrage for [the prosecutor] to say that that is what that man spent 20 years of his life doing when his writings, which we, unfortunately, took up a lot of paper, and I apologize for burdening the Court, every one of his writings, every declaration of every one of those conferences, what came out of the mouth of this man was,
“And his letters,” Ms. Ginsburg continued, “he submitted letters to two Presidents of this country saying, I’m not taking a position, everyone has to give something, no one is going to be satisfied.
“There is not one word that Mr. Kromberg can point to that Dr. Fai ever uttered that was propaganda for the government of Pakistan.
“He received suggestions from people who would participate in these conferences. He accepted some and rejected some. Topics, one of the topics that appears in these communications, the Pakistanis want him to raise the matter of 2,700 mass graves discovered in Kashmir.
“Well, the Pakistanis didn’t have to tell him that that is a topic that should be discussed at an international peace conference. There were 2,700 mass graves discovered in Kashmir,” his attorney added.
Dr. Fai was greatly honored and supported by people from all faiths. Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Zoroastrians, and even atheists wrote dozens of letters regarding Dr. Fai to the judge. These were people from the Unites States, United Kingdom, Netherlands, Norway, Denmark, Thailand, India, Pakistan, Canada, Bahrain, Qatar, Turkey, from both sides of the ceasefire line in Kashmir, and many other countries. The courtroom was filled to capacity with people who came from places like California, Kansas, Illinois, Ohio, New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, Washington DC, North Carolina, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and other states.
The judge publicly took the note of the letters, acknowledging the people in the court in a positive manner at least twice, and demonstrated great appreciation for the cause of the people of Kashmir. It’s an interesting and ironic twist that, although the government may have gained some short-term advantage with India in filing spurious charges against Fai, the case against India regarding Kashmir gained greater mileage and publicity in the long run since it also became obvious that an airing of the issues convinced a number of people involved directly and indirectly with the case, including the judge, that the many years of sacrifice given by Dr. Fai to his country was sincere and justified.
“I learned a whole lot reading this material,” Judge O’Grady declared. “I don’t for a minute question that [Dr.] Fai is a true patriot of Kashmir, even though he is a U.S. citizen, and the people that he has advocated for. I think he also loves the country and its people, and it’s reflected in his writings and it’s reflected by the people that are here today.”
Efforts by the prosecutor to paint Dr. Fai as a “shill” for Pakistan fell on deaf ears. Pointing out the prosecutor, Ms.Ginsberg said angrily, “Mr. Kromberg’s arguments to the Court are appalling in light of the fact that the Government originally charged Dr. Fai with a FARA offense, elected to drop that offense, and is now essentially making a closing argument that he would make to a jury if Dr. Fai was charged with violating the FARA statute, all without giving him the slightest ability to refute with facts.” The prosecution had dropped the charge entirely on its own, without negotiation or effort by the defense, before the case ever reached the court.
“Judge,” she said, “Pakistan would have Kashmir annexed to Pakistan. Dr. Fai is a Kashmiri. He doesn’t have to have Pakistan tell him that India shouldn’t be murdering tens of thousands of Kashmiri people.”
It was the genuineness of the cause of Kashmir and the succinct articulation of Dr. Fai which caused the judge to make clear that he was totally convinced that the accused in no way misrepresented the people of Kashmir when he said in his closing remarks, “I see no reason why you can’t continue to advocate on behalf of the Kashmiri people and to write.” He shared his belief in that cause when he added, “I hope that this cause continues to be identified as an important international matter. And good luck to you.”
The people of Kashmir should remember that Kashmir is not a bilateral issue between India and Pakistan but that it has its own international dimension as mentioned by Judge O’Grady. While the efforts of Dr. Fai have been somewhat muddied by these waters, the river flows on and the water will clear by these facts that have been revealed through this legal process. Dr. Fai continues to stand strong and, God willing, he will continue to advocate the cause of Kashmir while he is incarcerated.
Once he is released, he will again advocate this just cause before the international community, because he has been given the full support and confidence of American jurisprudence and was in fact encouraged by the judge to continue his work. That should be evidence in and of itself that the original allegation that he was acting as a foreign agent for Pakistan was completely false and without substance. The judge was eminently clear in recognizing the ongoing tragedy in Kashmir, acknowledging the many years of labor by Dr. Fai for his own homeland, and a full acknowledgement of those facts was made possible in public through this legal process.
A hero is someone who is willing to give his life for the cause of others. That description fits this man. He has given all that he could and more. No one I know or have known in my extensive experience in the political arena has demonstrated the selfless commitment and dedication I have seen in Dr. Fai. Kashmir is blessed and the world is blessed as well by his fine example. It is time that we all recognize that Dr. Ghulam Nabi Fai is a true hero for having raised the plight of Kashmiris to the level of global consciousness, and I personally owe him a deep sense of gratitude for the beautiful example he has been to me.
Paul Barrow is a Director of United Progressives and the Director of American Affairs for the International Council for Human Rights and Justice
First published in Al-Jazeerah.