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SOURCE: IANS

The anti-India ‘Friends of Kashmir’ group in the United States has been found to be actively linked to the banned Islamist terror groups and the Pakistan government. Sam Westrop and Martha Lee of the Middle East Forum (MEF), widely known for its meticulous journalistic investigations in the US, have unearthed the nexus between a Texas-based group, ‘Friends of Kashmir’, Pakistani regime and the US Congress members. The authors, in their joint investigation, accessed exclusively by IANS, have exposed how the Pakistani establishment exerts its influence through its terror groups in Kashmir, its diaspora and various fronts and lobbies in the US.

On August 5, 2020, Friends of Kashmir and its head – a prominent pro-Pakistani activist, writer and self-described poet named Ghazala Habib – organized an online discussion on Kashmir, in collaboration with the Pakistani embassy and its consulate in Houston, Westrop and Lee have noted in their comprehensive report. Speakers at the webinar included the two co-chairs of the United States Congress’s Pakistan Caucus, the President of Pakistan-administered Kashmir, and the Pakistani ambassador to the United States and the Houston consul-general. Other speakers included Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson, along with Texas state legislators Ron Reynolds and Terry Meza.

The webinar was held to run Pakistan’s campaign against India, launched by Prime Minister Imran Khan after the Modi government brought the state of Jammu & Kashmir on August 5, 2019, at par with other states of India. Broadcast on social media and American Pakistani television channel TVOne USA, the webinar was attended by Congressional Caucus co-chairs Representatives Jim Banks and Sheila Jackson Lee.

Even as Banks, who is an outspoken critic of South Asian Islamist groups, Pakistani media tried to project him as a supporter of ‘Friends of Kashmir’. With offices also in Islamabad and Karachi, Friends of Kashmir describes itself as a US based “International Non-Political Organization” focused on Kashmir. Their activities, “are the product of close collaboration with the Pakistani regime”, Westrop and Lee said.

During the webinar, Ghazala Habib thanked the Pakistani government for opening the “consulate doors for us 24/7,” describing it as “our first home.” In fact, Habib is also on close terms with President Masood Khan. “Habib does not just represent the interests of the Pakistani regime; she is also endorsed by prominent Kashmiri terror activists. In 2020, leaders of the Kashmiri Hurriyat political alliance, including Syed Ali Gilani and Asiya Andrabi, appointed Ghazala Habib as their representative in the United States,” Westrop and Lee said in their report.

Gilani is an infamous Kashmiri separatist who used to serve as the “Head of Jihad” for the now banned branch of the Islamist movement Jamaat-e-Islami in Jammu & Kashmir. Andrabi, meanwhile, founded the banned outfit Dukhtaran-e-Millat (Daughters of the Nation), which, The Economist notes, “supports terrorists” and advocates jihad. Andrabi claims to have embraced al-Qaeda officials, telling them that if “you belong to Sheikh Osama’s al-Qaeda then you are very welcome because he was a legitimate leader of Jihad.”

Andrabi has long been involved with Friends of Kashmir. In February 2017, the Texas group organized a conference at which the pro-Al Qaeda Andrabi spoke remotely, along with terror activists such as Yasin Malik and Shabir Shah, both of whom were arrested by Indian law enforcement in 2019. It emerged that Malik had apparently “visited” the [designated terrorist organization] Lashkar e Taiba (LeT) camps in Muree in Pakistan occupied Kashmir and addressed the LeT cadres there.”

As for Shah, he was reportedly “in touch with the global terrorist Hafeez Sayeed, chief of banned outfit ‘Jamat-ud-Dawa’ based in Pakistan,” and received “money for carrying out separatist activities in J&K.” In January 2021, Friends of Kashmir and Habib organized a protest in support of Malik, Shah, and Andrabi, in which she referred to the violent extremists as “heroes” and the “Kashmiri leadership.” Despite her connections to terrorists, Habib claims in an interview to “already have moral support in the United States “from many senators, Congressmen and influential people from the business community.”

Habib was far from the only terror-tied speaker to share a platform with several members of the United States Congress. Star speaker Riffat Wani is a Kashmiri activist under investigation by Jammu and Kashmir Police. Wani regularly expresses support for terrorists on social media. She has glowingly described the late, infamous Kashmiri terrorist Burhan Wani as one of “those who inspire others to resist occupation.” Burhan was a commander of the terrorist organization Hizbul Mujahideen, who successfully persuaded young Kashmiris to “join the holy war.” In fact, Riffat Wani frequently appears to honor “mujahideen” killed in violent clashes with Indian law enforcement, such as praising the “martyrdom” of the infamous terrorist operative Riyaz Naikoo.

“Other advertised speakers at the webinar included a spokesperson of Khalistani group Sikhs for Justice; as well as Raja Najabat Hussain and Abdul Hameed Lone, both of whom are officials of the JK Self Determination Movement International, which security services claim to be a front for Pakistan’s ISI. Another senior Pakistani politician listed as a presenter was Mushahid Hussain Syed, a former regime minister who has openly praised the activities of the murderous terrorist organization Lashkar-e-Taiba. British-Pakistani activist and politician Lord Nazir Ahmed was also featured in advertising for the event, although was not brought out to speak at any point. Perhaps his presence was considered unhelpful following his anticipated eviction from Britain’s House of Lords, all while he awaited trial on child abuse and attempted rape charges,” Westrop and Lee reported.

Lord Ahmed, who has a long history of involvement with Islamist causes in the United Kingdom, has been involved with Friends of Kashmir for several years. In March 2020, Lord Ahmed was listed as a speaker at another Friends of Kashmir event, alongside half a dozen prominent Pakistani politicians and Kashmiri leaders. They were due to be joined by Ghulam Nabi Fai, a Kashmiri-American activist convicted in an American court in 2011 of serving as an agent of Pakistan’s ISI.

“As these examples show, the August webinar, featuring alleged rapists, terror-supporters, anti-Semites, ISI-connected activists and U.S. Congress members was not a one-off example. In fact, it is just the latest initiative of an energetic Pakistani regime influence operation, based in Texas, which is working alongside Islamists from Europe and South Asia to influence American legislators and media, and to manipulate American Muslims’ grassroots power.”

This network’s efforts are yielding results, Westrop and Lee claimed. “In a recent document published by the Pakistani Embassy, officials presented putative endorsement of the regime’s position by 20 Senators and Congress members.” These elected officials, along with think tanks, human rights organizations and media outlets, have been, the embassy reports, successfully encouraged to take pro-Pakistan position on Kashmir and run smear campaign against India.