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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.

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Syed Ali Shah Gilani, the elderly leader of the separatist All Parties Hurriyat Conference, said he sees the FBI allegations as “Indian designs to weaken the Kashmiri struggle.”

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Many observers, however, view the arrest as the latest salvo in the spy vs. spy fight going on between the US and Pakistan, with India and Kashmir as peripheral.

“The Indian government had objected to Fai’s activities in 1994. No action was taken by the US government,” says Luv Puri, author of “Across the Line of Control.” “The present action taken by the US is rooted in its own perceived national interest.”

Several Kashmiri journalists in Srinagar expressed doubt that Fai’s arrest alone would spawn a major demonstration tomorrow.

"Most of the people will hear his name for the first time," says one journalist, who declined to be named. "It is, I guess, something that touches the Hurriyat's skin more and people's skin less."

So far this summer the Kashmir Valley has remained quietly tense. Last summer, Indian security forces killed 117 Kashmiri civilians in months of street clashes. Many Kashmiris say that this summer’s “calm” could explode in an instant, however.

Tomorrow’s planned demonstrations may draw intensity not from the Fai incident but from a local woman's allegations that she was gang raped for two days by Indian soldiers. The state police said they are investigating.

Many young Kashmiri activists may not have known much about Fai’s work, but they care deeply about getting American attention for Kashmir. Some have expressed frustration to the Monitor in the past that their uprising did not receive the Western media coverage given to the Arab Spring.

Now the Fai spy story has captured US media attention, not with the story of a grassroots pro-independence movement, but with the story of covert Pakistani funding of separatism.

Mr. Puri, however, doubts that Fai’s work nor his arrest will have much impact on US policy on Kashmir.

“One of the critical factors impacting the US policy is its academic institutions and think tanks, and in this particular arena Mr. Fai was almost a non-entity. So I cannot say that Fai’s arrest is a major PR disaster” for the separatists, says Puri via e-mail.

And the challenges for a Kashmir resolution lie not just in international politics, argues Puri, but in harmonizing the different visions among the many ethnic, linguistic, and religious communities inside the region.


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