Padgaonkar, J&K Interlocutor, Is Among Fai’s Many Guest Speakers20 July 2011
The Indian Express
New Delhi: A part of the funds that US-based Kashmiri separatist Ghulam Nabi Fai, who was arrested by the FBI yesterday for illegally lobbying for Pakistan and the ISI, received from his backers went into organising “international conferences” on Kashmir. Prominent among those who have attended his conferences are Dileep Padgaonkar, who is now one of the three interlocutors for J&K appointed by the Centre, former Delhi High Court Chief Justice Rajinder Sachar, former editor Kuldip Nayar and activist Gautam Navlakha. Fai is known in India mainly for organising the annual conferences for leading political and intellectual figures, human rights activists as well as Kashmiri separatists from both sides of the Indo-Pak border and Line of Control (LoC). Most of those who attended the conclaves claim they had no idea about his covert association with the ISI. Padgaonkar said he had attended one conference organised by Fai in 2005. “It was a two-day meeting. I had no idea about his antecedents but went only after I was assured that many leading journalists from India and Pakistan would be participating. In hindsight, I agree that if I had the slightest idea about who he actually was, I would never have agreed to go to the US for his conference,” Padgaonkar told The Indian Express. While many people who have attended his conferences refused to comment, the few who did painted a picture of a man who had access to Capitol Hill and could ensure the presence of many US politicians as well as Indians and Pakistanis. They say he spoke “very little”, always trying to avoid long conversations with his guests. “I have known him for many years now and he is a rich man. He certainly knew a lot of people on Capitol Hill and could get big names together to discuss Kashmir and Indo-Pak relations,” recalled veteran journalist Kuldip Nayar, who attended some of the conferences. Asked if he was surprised by the timing of Fai’s arrest, Nayar said: “Yes, I am surprised. Not by the timing of his arrest but that he has been arrested. He seemed to have real clout on the Hill.” Ved Bhasin, the owner of J&K newspaper The Kashmir Times, was reportedly a regular at Fai’s events. But when contacted today, Bhasin declined to comment. Journalist Harinder Baweja, who attended one conference, said: “He (Fai) wasn’t under investigation at that time or the US authorities wouldn’t have allowed him to hold the conference on Capitol Hill. I had gone there as a journalist and there was nothing wrong in that,” she said. Prof Kamal Mitra Chenoy, chairperson of JNU’s Centre for Comparative Politics & Political Theory, was among those invited by Fai to attend a conference. “While I didn’t go for his conference, I met him at another meeting in PoK. I know that though he would call people of all shades, majority would have a pro-Pakistan view on Kashmir. But it is significant that he has been arrested now. It shows there is a problem between the US and Pakistan,” said Chenoy. Columnist Praful Bidwai, who attended the seventh Kashmir conference in July 2007, said he couldn’t comment on Fai as he didn’t know him personally. Among other Indians who have participated in Fai’s conferences are academic-cum-activist Angana Chatterji, Rita Manchanda, executive director of the South Asia Forum for Human Rights (SAFHR), Prof G R Malik, head of the English department, Central University, Kashmir, and Jatinder Bakshi, president of J&K Forum for Peace and Reconciliation.