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Kashmiris respond to arrest of alleged secret agent in Washington

The arrest of Syed Ghulam Nabi Fai on spy charges in the US has highlighted a generation divide among Kashmiri separatist activists.

By Staff writer / July 22, 2011

In this 2007 photo, Syed Ghulam Nabi Fai, executive director of the Kashmiri American Council addresses a news conference in Muzaffarabad, capital of Pakistan-administered Kashmir. Pakistan has protested the arrest of a Kashmiri-born man in the United States on charges he was working for Pakistan's spy agency to lobby in Washington for the cause of Kashmiri independence.

Roshan Mughal/AP

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New Delhi

Elder Kashmiri separatist leaders are condemning the arrest of a Kashmiri lobbyist in Washington and are calling for demonstrations.

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Tuesday the FBI arrested Syed Ghulam Nabi Fai on spy charges, alleging that he received instructions and at least half-a-million dollars a year from Pakistan’s spy agency, the ISI.

Mr. Fai’s arrest is unlikely to have much impact on the Kashmiri struggle for independence from India. Young people protesting through street demonstrations, Facebook, and pop culture are providing the movement’s momentum now, not the kind of foreign lobbying work done by Fai.

Fai belongs to an older generation of Kashmiri activists who are deeply enmeshed in the power politics of the region. Such elders are respected but not necessarily followed by young Kashmiris, whose tactics have actually forced India and the outside world to take a second look at the decades-old dispute.

“I believe that the kind of work that Fai was doing belongs to a different time,” says Sanjay Kak, a Kashmiri filmmaker and editor of the new book “Until My Freedom Has Come: The New Intifada in Kashmir.” Fai’s work mostly consisted of organizing conferences, lobbying Congress, and connecting opinion makers on Kashmir.

“I’m not saying that kind of politics is over, but people also realize that a new image will come out,” of the media reports on the new youth uprisings, says Mr. Kak. “If it was only about lobbyists and PR outfits, [Kashmir] would go to the highest bidder. It doesn’t work like that.”

Fai founded the Kashmiri American Council in Washington in 1990, near the beginning of an armed insurgency inside Indian-controlled Kashmir that received heavy support and fighters from Pakistan.

Kashmir is disputed and divided between India and Pakistan, with many Kashmiris refusing to accept Indian control.

The violent fighting that flared in the 1990s tailed off a decade ago, as did Pakistan’s influence among younger Kashmiris who have grown more attracted to independence, rather than Pakistan.

The elders of Fai’s generation have tried to get the Kashmir dispute discussed and resolved in the corridors of power in New Delhi, Islamabad, and Washington. But the issue has been trapped by the geopolitics of the India-Pakistan rivalry and the manipulation of Kashmiri leaders.

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