Friday, July 22, 2011

Fai’s guests weren’t traitors, but just ISI’s ‘useful idiots’

R Jagannathan
Jul 21, 2011


The arrest of Kashmiri propagandist Ghulam Nabi Fai in the US, allegedly for failing to report the fact that he was working for the Pakistani government and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), raises many questions. The main thought: are Indian liberals unwittingly or wittingly turning out to be the ISI’s “useful idiots”?

The term “useful idiots” was originally used to refer to Soviet sympathisers in the West, who naively thought they were friends of the Soviet Union. In reality, the Soviets had nothing but contempt for them. They were useful for propaganda purposes – and nothing more.

Kashmiri separatist leader Ghulam Nabi Fai. FBI has arrested Fai on Tuesday on charges of being an ISI agent who lobbied for the Pakistani spy agency and army on the issue of Kashmir. PTI

Two caveats are in order upfront: a witch-hunt of people who partook of Fai’s ISI-funded generosity at his annual Kashmir conferences is not on. Two, one should also presume that the US has suddenly woken up to the reality of ISI activities in America. They always knew what Fai was upto; it is just that the present moment is ideal to bring out his ISI connection.

On Friday, one news channel started an inquisition to find out who was hosted by Fai at its Kashmir conferences, which inevitably ended up supporting the Pakistani position of Kashmir – a fact Fai used to lobby with US politicians, including Dan Burton, a habitual India-baiter. Burton, too, now claims he didn’t know the ISI was funding his vocal cause.

As for Fai, we now know that his Kashmiri sympathies were compromised by his Pakistani connection. He used the money to create a fifth column within India to aid the Kashmiri effort.

Among the intellectuals who are known to have enjoyed the hospitality of Fai are Dileep Padgaonkar, who was the government’s J&K interlocutor, Kuldip Nayar, a known peacenik, Justice Sachar, who was author of the Sachar report on the economic status of Muslims in India, and Gautam Navlakha, a peace activist. Or so says The Indian Express.

It is stupid to pretend that all these people are traitors or were somehow wrong in appearing at Kashmir forums. Most of them either genuinely believed in what they were saying, or at least convinced themselves that they were doing the right thing. Now that they know how they were being used and who was paying for their five-star breakfasts and business class travel, they stand warned.

It is also worth noting that the arrest of Fai is not a sudden US gift to us. It is the result of US-Pak shadow-boxing to push the other into a corner. The US wants to paint the ISI into a corner from where it is forced to help the US extricate itself from Afghanistan without bringing in the old Taliban, with its Mullah Omars and reactionary fundamentalists. The Pakistan government, and especially the army, is playing its own games with the US to extract military aid and other benefits.

What the US did not do is arrest Fai for India’s benefit. They knew what he was doing all along, just as they knew what David Coleman Headley was upto, since he was their double-agent who turned jihadi. We are incidental to US calculations. We are the ones making a big song-and-dance about Fai or Headley. The US will act against them to the extent they can put pressure on the Pakistanis for protecting their own interests.

That said, the only things our own Padgaonkars and Kuldip Nayars need to do is introspect. Granted, they did not know their junkets were being bankrolled by the ISI. Now they need to think about how they have manipulated.

Whether it is Arundhati Roy or any of our human rights activists, the problem is their (presumably) honestly held views are being used and abused to promote a separatist ideology with communal overtones. In other words, from the ISI’s point of view, they are “useful idiots” who unwittingly serve a sectarian cause in Kashmir by assuming that the fight is about human rights – which it is partially, but not wholly.

The problem with conscientious liberals is that they speak loudly against the Indian state when it tramples human rights, but not when those who call for azaadi do the same, or worse. This is what makes them ISI’s “useful idiots.” What they say loudly can be used against India, and what they say weakly against the jihadis can be drowned out in the noise of verbal warfare.

Maybe, just maybe, it is time they learnt to balance their views. They may, in their liberal hearts, want to back calls for azaadi, but they bite their tongues when discussing what kind of azaadi we are talking about where an entire people have been ethnically cleansed from the Kashmir Valley.

Arundhati Roy raises the right questions (do we have the right to trample on so many Kashmiris?) in many ways, but what stands out is what the ISI wants the world to hear. Not her liberalism (Read her 2008 Outlook article and ask yourself what stands out – whether it is what the ISI wants to hear, which is the first half of her article, or her liberal inner side, which comes muted in the second half?)

Do our liberals want to remain the ISI’s “useful idiots” forever? They are all willing, like Yudhishtira at Kurukshetra, to say that “Ashwathama is dead” loudly, but mention the elephant (of communal separatism) under their breaths. This does not serve the cause of truth.

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