Separatists in high places: Harsh Mander

Sandhya Jain
20 February 2013

Nowhere in Harsh Mander’s impressive CVs found on the websites of various organisations, including Sonia Gandhi’s National Advisory Council of which he was a member till June 2012, and Wikipedia, is it mentioned that he is associated with the Justice Foundation Kashmir Centre UK, along with the ISI’s now-famous Syed Ghulam Nabi Fai.

The Justice Foundation Kashmir Centre was set up in London in January 2004 by Dr. Ayub Thakur to seek “justice and peace for the oppressed people of the world, including the people of Jammu and Kashmir”. Informed sources believe it is a project of British intelligence to undermine India’s claim on Kashmir. The Foundation received some money from the ISI when Fai was roped in as Director. Prof. Nazir Ahmed Shawl, an academic who writes regularly for all major Pakistan newspapers, took over the reins after Ayub Thakur’s death in 2004.

As is well known, Ghulam Nabi Fai, an American citizen of Kashmiri origin, was arrested by the FBI in July 2011 on charges of concealing receipt of USD 3.5 million from Pakistan’s ISI to fund his illegal lobbying efforts to influence the US government on the Kashmir issue in violation of the Foreign Agents Registration Act. His arrest coincided with a sharp deterioration in US-Pak relations following the American stealth attack on Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad in May the same year.

Fai pleaded guilty to conspiracy and tax evasion and was sentenced to two years imprisonment for “conspiracy to defraud the US” by concealing transfer of funding from the ISI for illegal lobbying on Kashmir. His activities included hosting seminars to promote Pakistan’s viewpoint on Kashmir internationally; prominent invitees included Dilip Padgaonkar, the Indian government appointed interlocutor on Kashmir.

Former IAS officer Harsh Mander shot to international fame when he publicly blamed the Gujarat government and Chief Minister for the 2002 riots. Since then, he has positioned himself as a social activist, writer, and moral crusader of neglected causes. He heads the Aman Biradari trust which works for communal harmony and is a founding member of Shabnam Hashmi’s Act Now for Harmony and Democracy (ANHAD).

Although he has publicly supported the demand for removal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act from Jammu and Kashmir, Harsh Mander has never informed his Indian audience that he is a member of the Working Group of the Justice Foundation which operates as Pakistan’s propaganda vehicle on Kashmir.

The Foundation website gives a slanted history of the Kashmir ‘dispute’, such as, “It is rumoured that the Maharaja acceded to India in exchange for military assistance and the promise of a popular referendum”. The purpose, of course, is to undermine the unquestionable accession of the erstwhile Kingdom to India by Maharaja Hari Singh, though it is true that Jawaharlal Nehru and Louis Mountbatten played a role in muddying the waters.

As a member of the Working Group of the Justice Foundation, it follows that Harsh Mander, doyen of the Indian secularists and human rights activists, is actually serving the Pakistani cause advocated by the Foundation. Mander is listed as representing the Centre for Equity Studies, India, a body appointed by the Delhi Government as the nodal agency for managing residential homes for street children in allocated government buildings, a mandate in which it failed completely.

In August 2012, a Delhi Police investigation found that three minor boys were sexually exploited in the Centre for Equity Studies’ home in Mehrauli and that the management had turned ignored the abuse despite being aware of it. Despite a direct warning from a former staff member of the home, neither the project in-charge nor Mander himself took steps to prevent the abuse of the boys or called the police.

In Britain, the media has questioned the association of MPs of both the Conservative and Labour parties with the Justice Foundation, which is alleged to be a front for Pakistani spies. In August 2011, there was a furore over MPs hosting a Justice Foundation conference in the House of Commons. It was attended by Baroness Warsi, co-chairman of the Conservative Party.

The British press noted that Ghulam Nabi Fai, who had been arrested by the FBI the previous month for running an organisation called the Kashmiri American Council while acting as an agent of a foreign power, was a director of the Justice Foundation based in Bloomsbury, central London. American prosecutors then claimed that the three Kashmir Centers in Washington, London and Brussels were run on behalf of “elements of the Pakistani government, including Pakistan’s military intelligence service, the Inter-Services Intelligence Agency (ISI).”

The Foundation hosted Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s visit to Britain in 2010. The latter’s party, the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam, is believed to have links to the Taliban. Over the years, the Justice Foundation has organised several conferences on the Kashmir conflict with millions of dollars of covert funding, according to British media.

Another function of the Foundation was hosted by the Labour peer Baron Nazir Ahmed in the House of Lords in 2010. Moreover, Ahmed and two Conservative and Labour MPs accepted Foundation funding for a trip to Kashmir, including Occupied Kashmir. All three MPs later claimed ignorance of the Foundation’s links with the ISI; Ahmed even claimed that though he knew Ghulam Nabi Fai for many years, he did not know that Fai was a director of the Foundation!

Since Harsh Mander has been a member of the all-powerful National Advisory Council and would have enjoyed unprecedented access to the highest echelons of Government, and former Air Chief Marshall SP Tyagi was co-chair (with Pakistan General Jehangir Karamat, retd.) of a Track-II initiative in 2012 which favoured India withdrawing from the strategic Siachen Glacier, the Government of India must clarify its position on Jammu & Kashmir State without further ado. And if it is serious, it should sternly warn citizens against associating with individuals and agencies hostile to the nation’s sovereignty and territorial integrity., 20 February 2013

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