lobbying in the US

An abridged version of this article was published at the Express Tribune: http://tribune.com.pk/story/305107/fai-and-kashmir/

Lobbying in the US is not strictly an Israeli and Indian sport; in fact it is a legal activity permissible to all. The untouchable Israeli lobby in the US puts so much pressure and funds into policy makers that Israel’s interests nearly always come first. Following Israel’s lobbying model is the Indian lobby which is also succeeding in getting their way by pumping dollars and applying pressure on US Government officials. The Kashmir American Council (KAC) was no exception; it is amongst the numerous organizations that promote interests of foreign states.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) identifies itself as America’s pro-Israel lobby. AIPAC consists of Jewish Americans but some of its strongest supporters are evangelical Christians, a group which embodies a quarter of the American voters. Political careers in Washington often come to an abrupt end when officials openly support Palestinian causes; they are labeled as supporters of terrorism, anti-Semitic and anti-Israel plus the opposing candidate suddenly receives generous donations.  The US Indian Political Action Committee (USINPAC) was founded by Sanjay Puri in 2002. The Indians were so enthralled by the Israel lobby that they formed USINPAC in its mold. The large size of the Indian population in the US coupled with higher level of education and income has strengthened the Indian lobby.

According to the FBI report the KAC had received up to $700,000 annually from Pakistan to make contributions to US politicians in order to influence US policy on Kashmir. Dr Fai operated overtly; he held seminars and his guests included political leaders, human rights groups, diplomats and journalists. His aim was to raise awareness about the plight of the Kashmiris and also to find a solution to Kashmir. Nonetheless, these public events threatened US national security and Fai was arrested. The Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) requires those who receive funding or lobby on behalf of a foreign government to register as a foreign agent. Thus Fai’s crime being that he did not file the correct paperwork declaring that he was working with a foreign government. USINPAC and AIPAC are not however held to the same standards. They are not registered under FARA because USINPAC claims it focuses only on Indian American community whereas AIPAC states that it does not receive funding from Israel. However, it is difficult to separate the policies of these two groups from those of India and Israel. India friendly policies proposed by USINPAC promote India’s national interest as well. For instance USINPAC played a role in pushing the US-India nuclear deal through Congress. Meanwhile AIPAC lobbies for financial aid to Israel, securing up to 3 billion annually, making Israel the largest collective recipient of US aid over the past 60 years. AIPAC also ensures that the aid is not allocated for any specific projects.

From an American standpoint, aversion to Fai’s activities seems bizarre. He was only promoting the cause of self-determination for Kashmiris and we should not forget that the right to self-determination has always been a strong tool of US foreign policy… even if it is used selectively. The timing of the revelation is also suspicious since the KAC had been operating in the US for two decades. Opportunely his ties to ISI were revealed during Hillary Clinton’s trip to India.

Kashmir: infographic. Source: Al Jazeera

In reality the US has always steered clear of Kashmir other than reiterating support for a bilateral settlement on Kashmir between India and Pakistan. Secretary Clinton made no mention of Kashmir during her visit to India. When Obama first took office in 2008 he had called for a comprehensive regional solution linking Kashmir to problems on the Af-Pak border. Richard Holbrooke’s portfolio originally included Afghanistan, Pakistan and India (Af-Pak-Ind). However, the Indian lobby proved successful in getting the nation excluded and furthermore prevailed in pressuring the US not to mention Kashmir. According to the Washington Post, the Indians were troubled by Holbrooke’s tough reputation and did not want him interfering in Kashmir. So Obama, like his predecessors, caved and the Indians got their way. Self-interest of the United States undoubtedly plays a role in their support of two major arms purchasers. During his visit, Obama reached a $10 billion trade deal with India in hopes of creating 50,000 new jobs. America, the champion of human rights, can overlook the abuses by the Indian military in Kashmir as long as India is willing to use American bullets along the disputed territory.

Pakistani efforts in Washington D.C. have been suffering following the Bin Laden raid as experts on the area are leaving key offices. Shamila Chaudhary once served as a member of Hillary Clinton’s Policy Planning Staff and as a senior adviser to the late RichardHolbrooke. She has since moved on to the private sector. There does not seem to be a backup team in place to take charge either. As Shuja Nawaz said “there is a wholesale movement of the Pakistan expertise out, and there is apparently not enough expertise in the pipeline.”

Lobbying has become an essential activity in order to have a voice in the international arena. Pakistan does not have billions of expendable dollars to lavish among US politicians for support for its interests. Thus, it is important that the Pakistani diaspora join in to improve upon the foreign image of Pakistan. Nearly 600,000 Pakistani Americans reside in the US. They pay taxes like any other citizen and have the right to be heard. Instead of shying away from a homeland in disrepair, Pakistanis residing throughout the world would be best served by following the example of Fai. Just be careful to properly fill out all the necessary forms.

Some resources for further reading:

The Israel Lobby and the US Foreign Policy:  http://web.hks.harvard.edu/publications/workingpapers/citation.aspx?PubId=3670

Kashmir: http://english.aljazeera.net/indepth/spotlight/kashmirtheforgottenconflict/



1 Response to “lobbying in the US”

  1. 1 M.Hasham Khan
    December 13, 2011 at 2:54 pm

    Excellent article (on lobbying in USA). Very good analysis enjoyed reading it.

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