US officials charged two suspected Pakistani agents over an alleged decades-long effort that funneled millions of dollars to Washington to lobby the Kashmiri cause in the corridors of power.
The Justice Department unsealed conspiracy charges against Ghulam Nabi Fai, 62, a US citizen, and Zaheer Ahmad, 63, a US citizen and resident of Pakistan, and said both men faced five years in prison if found guilty.
“Foreign governments who try to influence the United States by using unregistered agents threaten our national security,” said FBI Assistant Director in Charge James McJunkin.
Under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, it is illegal for agents of foreign governments to seek to influence US policy or law without fully disclosing their identity and any underlying information.
Fai was arrested on Tuesday morning and set to appear Thursday before a court in Alexandria, near the US capital. Ahmad was believed to be in Pakistan.
“Mr Fai is not a Pakistani citizen and the government and embassy of Pakistan have no knowledge of the case involving him,” a spokesman from the Pakistani embassy told AFP.
The influence peddling allegations, which come amid increasingly strained ties between the United States and Pakistan, center on the Kashmiri American Council (KAC), a Washington-based NGO founded in 1990.
“According to the affidavit, Fai and the KAC have received at least $4 million from the Pakistani government since the mid-1990s through Ahmad and his funding network,” the Justice Department said.
The complaint said KAC was one of three “Kashmir Centers” actually run by Pakistan’s military intelligence service, the Inter-Services Intelligence Agency (ISI) — the other two being in London and Brussels.
Fai, who serves as KAC’s Washington director, is accused of using money provided by Ahmad to lobby politicians and their aides in Washington to support Pakistan’s desire for self-determination for Kashmiris.
“Mr Fai is accused of a decades-long scheme with one purpose — to hide Pakistan’s involvement behind his efforts to influence the US government’s position on Kashmir,” said US Attorney Neil MacBride.
“His handlers in Pakistan allegedly funneled millions through the Kashmir Center to contribute to US elected officials, fund high-profile conferences, and pay for other efforts that promoted the Kashmiri cause to decision-makers in Washington.”
The criminal complaint alleged that the two conspired illegally as Pakistani agents, falsifying and concealing material facts that they had a duty to disclose in their dealings with the United States government.
A Justice Department statement said a witness told investigators the ISI created the KAC as a propaganda tool and had been directing Fai’s activities for the past 25 years. He had been in touch with four Pakistani government handlers more than 4,000 times since June 2008, it said.
Fai had contacted AFP in Washington several times in recent months to seek a meeting and sent a journalist his KAC briefing paper outlining a plan to “release the people of Kashmir from their undeserved agony.”
Pakistan supports Kashmir’s right to self-determination in line with UN resolutions calling for a plebiscite on whether it should be ruled by India or Pakistan.
Kashmir was split in two in the aftermath of independence on the subcontinent when British rule ended in 1947. Both India and Pakistan claim the entire territory, which is divided by a heavily militarized Line of Control.
India accuses Pakistan of sponsoring an Islamist insurgency that has claimed tens of thousands of lives in the last two decades in Kashmir. Pakistan denies the claim but has often spoken in support of the fighters.
The nuclear-armed rivals have fought two of their three wars over the territory.
Earlier this month, the United States decided to withhold a third of its annual $2.7 billion security assistance to Islamabad amid strained diplomatic relations following the May 2 raid that killed Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden.
The powerful Pakistani military was humiliated by the bin Laden raid, which attracted allegations of incompetence or complicity with Al-Qaeda.