Congress support for the anti-Indian line taken up by the Pulitzer award committee and other organisations and groups with similar intentions points to a disturbing pattern of supporting a separatist agenda for cheap political gains
The Pulitzer citation for the three Indian photographers of Associated Press under the ‘Feature Photography’ section describes Kashmir thus: “images showing life in the contested Kashmir as India revoked its independence.” Congress princeling Rahul Gandhi congratulated these awardees, in effect, endorsing the Pulitzer line of Kashmir being ‘contested’ and of India ‘revoking’ its “independence.” One of the titles of a collection of photos by one of the awarded photographers is named by the Associated Press as Srinagar “a city under siege” while another section of photographs clicked by one of the awarded photographers repeatedly describes, terrorist Burhan Wani as “chief of operations of Indian Kashmir’s largest rebel group Hizbul Mujahideen.” Associated Press, like the Reuters and some other international outlets, has steadfastly refused to term the Hizbul Mujahideen as a terror group although India, the European Union (EU) and the US have listed it as a terrorist outfit.
The act of endorsing the Pulitzer award and its citation, once more, like many other in the recent past, has confirmed the contention that the Congress party under Rahul and Sonia Gandhi is increasingly becoming a party of separatism and is giving space and international voice to separatists and terror promoting conglomerates and outfits. In doing so both Rahul and Sonia Gandhi are seen to be endorsing Pakistan’s line and the line of its ISI and army that Kashmir is ‘disputed territory’ which needs international intervention and arbitration.
There is a clear chronology to the events of the last few days. It points to a series of events and provocations aimed at once more bringing on the international stage, the “Kashmir Agenda.” Pandemic, a reversal of global structures and certainties, collective existential challenges are of no consequences to this coalition of Islamists-Marxists-Separatists. The next plenary session of the European Parliament is slated from May 13, 2020, and they have started moving to push their destabilise-and-malign-India agenda to the fore. A much publicised “COVID-19 Kashmir Women’s Conference” to “comprehensively analyse the situation of Kashmiri women and girls both under occupation and the Covid-19 Pandemic” was held on April 27, 2020, in Islamabad and London. Among those who spoke at the conference was Dr Shireen Mazari – Pakistani Minister for Human Rights, who had termed the abrogation of Article 370 as “war crime” and had, in February 2020, raised with the European Union Special Representative on Human Rights, “concern” on violation of human rights by India in Kashmir. Mazari has been a rabid anti-India and pro-Kashmiri separatist advocate on international forums. Among the other participants in this Pakistani funded conference was Shamim Shawl, a Hurriyat leader based out of Islamabad who has also been the voice of Pakistani sponsored Kashmiri separatists at various international conferences.
Among the other speakers, were the likes of Claire Bidwell – co-founder of “Let Kashmir Decide”, of whom we will come to later, and French origin human rights activist Soraya Boyd founder & CEO of a strangely named NGO called “Facilitate Global.” Within a week both Bidwell and Boyd would speak at another Kashmir conference sponsored by Tehreek-e-Kashmir, an ISI front. The women’s conference passed a resolution which spoke of Indian authorities “using this pandemic as a cover to continue its brutal attack on Kashmiri society” and called for UN intervention to help “contain the spread of pandemic” in Kashmir. It also “urged the Organization of Islamic Co-Operation (OIC) to take a more prominent lead in promoting greater engagement to protect all the human rights of the people of Jammu and Kashmir and help in resolving the conflict…” The separatists and Pakistani propaganda machines were working overtime. In a week this virtual conference was followed up by another conference in London on May 3, which was sponsored by the Tehreek-e-Kashmir. The events thus leading to Handwara and the Pulitzer Prize were well laid out.
“Kashmir Virtual Conference: Kashmir under siege knocking at the world conscience” conference in London on May 3, had as speakers a mixed group of those who either closely work with or front for the Pakistani government and the ISI. The terror attacks in Pulwama and Handwara, unprovoked firing by the Pakistani army on the border in Kashmir were all happening around the same time, and was followed eventually on May 5 by a much publicised and trumpeted Pulitzer prize for photographers who have covered Kashmir under “lockdown.” The “free-Kashmir” cartels with their benefactors and their endorsers in Pakistan and the Congress party in India, it appears, had followed a well-planned script. The sequence of events of the last ten days indicated a deliberate attempt to re-ignite the “Kashmir plan.”
In his felicitations of the photographers and in endorsing the Pulitzer line on Kashmir, Rahul Gandhi had, as a company, for instance, Farhan Mujahid Chak, associate professor of international relations at Qatar University in Doha, secretary-general of Kashmiri Civitas – an “international civil society and strategic advocacy organisation committed to the socio-political emancipation, moral uplift and economic empowerment of Kashmiris”, in short, an active and vocal front for Kashmiri separatism. A few hours before Rahul Gandhi congratulated the Associated Press photographers, Mujahid, an active free Kashmir proponent, who also writes for the Al Jazeera on Kashmir, thanked the photographers for “bringing out unbiased stories from Occupied Kashmir, in face of a system that is directed against the free press, especially during the 2019 siege.” The afternoon which saw Rahul Gandhi endorse the Pulitzer line on Kashmir, Mujahid, put out a series of violent tweets in support of terrorists killed in Pulwama by CRPF and 55 RR on Sunday (May 3). In a series of 10 ferocious tweets, Mujahid spoke of “Indian barbarity and use of native Kashmiris as human shields.” He went on to describe the Pulwama encounter in words and manner which is normally reserved for Pakistani handlers of terrorists operating in Kashmir. Mujahid also spoke at the “Kashmir Virtual conference” on May 3, and displayed his bile while falsely claiming that during Ramazan, Indian forces had “killed 33 people in just one month.” He termed India a ‘desperate fascist state.” Mujahid was, of course, lying through his nose, and was mouthing the line given to him by his Pakistani benefactors. That an academic of the University of Qatar can speak in the language of a terrorist is alarming. India ought to be taken up the issue with the Qatar authorities; they ought to be asked whether their educational institutions should be used for peddling an agenda that aims at breaking India? However, both Prof Farhan Mujahid and Rahul Gandhi have endorsed the Pulitzer line.
Some of the other speakers at the “Virtual Kashmir” conference need to be flagged as well. One of the speakers was Mabel Al Sharika, lawyer and director of the Centre for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law at the Kuwait Bar Association. Al Sharika was recently at the forefront of the anti-India campaign in the Gulf in trying to push the motivated “Islamophobia” in India narrative. On 17 April, Al Sharika had said that he would “adopt the cause of Muslims in India at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva for free.” Interestingly the Congress owned and managed National Herald – the out on bail paper as some refer to it – in a gleeful article by one Uttam Sengupta, titled “Arabs wake up to ‘Hindu Rashtra’; India loses face and its benign image – In a world paralysed by a pandemic, the Middle East discovers India’s ugly underbelly”, highlighting Al Sharika’s tweet, approvingly referred to his stand. At the May 3 virtual conference on Kashmir, Al Sharika spoke of the “countdown on the tyrannical Hindutva regime” as having begun with “Human rights advocates and leaders from EU, UK, Kashmir and the Arab world” having joined him “to take on the fascist RSS in India.” The international community, he said, “won’t tolerate oppression on minorities anymore.” On May 4, Al Sharika again warned India that a global movement was taking shape with human rights organisations joining hands to bring it to book. It is evident thus that the origins of Al Sharika’s “Islamophobia” activism lay in Pakistan and seemed to have been influenced by the ISI line on Kashmir and on Indian Muslims. He was playing to a script: raise the bogey of ‘Islamophobia” based on some fringe social media utterances, and then bring round the debate to human rights, and eventually to the standard and routine “Kashmir under siege” narrative in the Modi regime and make the usual appeal to human rights bodies and the EU to intervene. Is it surprising therefore that Al Sharika and his activism find space in the columns of the Rahul and Sonia Gandhi managed ‘National Herald’!
Another prominent speaker at the Kashmir virtual conference was Phil Bennion, Member of the European Parliament (MEP). A liberal democrat and twice MEP, Bennion has been vocal against CAA and the abrogation of 370 and has been at the forefront of efforts to highlight these and censure India at the EU. Bennion is especially close to the Pakistani establishment and is a regular at events organised by the Pakistani High Commission in London and holds extreme views on both Kashmir and CAA. In January 2020, Bennion, speaking at the EU parliament had opposed CAA, saying that it discriminated on religious grounds; did not extend protection to Muslims and aims at making them “stateless”. Interestingly the same line was taken by Islamists, communists and the Congress party in India disregarding the fact that the CAA was passed by both Houses of the Indian Parliament, after a thorough and detailed debate. On the European Parliament deferring a vote on the CAA, Bennion’s outburst against the government of India and PM Modi was that “Modi’s India was deceptive and Europe failed to comprehend the manipulation, aggression, discrimination, and fascist tactics of the Indian government.” It will be interesting to note that on his way to speak against India and in favour of Kashmiri separatists, Bennion had called on the Pakistani High Commissioner, on January 20, 2020, and had, as per his admission, “discussed human rights in Kashmir and the need for a long term political solution. They [Pakistanis] wanted to explore how I can continue to play a role following Brexit and to engage with me in my capacity as vice-chair of the Liberal International Human Rights Committee.” Bennion is deeply ensconced within the Pakistani deep state and is increasingly becoming the voice of Pakistan and Kashmiri separatists and terrorists on multilateral platforms. On February 5, Bennion was at the Pakistan High Commission in London, as a speaker at a conference on Kashmir. In October 2019, he had met with members of the banned terrorist outfit JKLF’s Birmingham branch. JKLF’s chairman, Yasin Mallik, one of the kingpins of separatism in Kashmir, is currently under trial for the murder of Indian Air Force personnel in Kashmir in 1990. Bennion met the JKLF’s Birmingham group “to discuss the march to the Line of Control in Kashmir.” The Kashmiris, he noted, “are demanding the lifting of the curfew and have asked me to request a visit to the marchers by the EU External Action Service (diplomatic service) delegation in Islamabad.” In September 2019, a few weeks after the abrogation of Article 370, Bennion had shared the stage with Pakistani foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, at Geneva, where he called for Kashmiri self-determination. Bennion has maintained close links with the “Azaad” Kashmir lobby and the PoJK “government”. In September Bennion had addressed a press conference with the “Prime Minister” of PoJK, at the EU and called for internationalising the Kashmir issue, by including the EU and the UN in negotiations. He closely liaised with Raja Farooq Haider, the puppet “Prime Minister” of PoJK during the presentations made against India before the European’s Parliament’s Committee on Foreign Affairs in the first week of September 2019.
Interestingly, even during the Manmohan Singh led Congress regime, Bennion had called for India to “improve” her human rights track record before any trade could be finalised with the EU. He had then claimed that “soldiers get bonuses for shooting terrorists” and “In the year 2010, approximately 120 people were killed in Kashmir alone for protesting against the Indian occupation.” Yet when the same Bennion opposed the visit of a delegation of MEP’s to Kashmir in October 2019, to see for themselves the situation on the ground, the Congress’s mouthpiece, the National Herald, shepherded by Rahul and Sonia Gandhi, referred to him in its report opposing this visit. In an article by one Hasan Suroor, titled, “Credibility of Kashmir-bound MEPs questioned”, the National Herald gave space to Bennion’s views, “It was no coincidence that India decided to revoke the status of Kashmir in August when parliaments around the world were in recess and there was no-one in EU who could react,” said Britain’s Liberal MEP Phil Bennion as pressure mounts for EU to take a harder stand.” The conclusion of the National Herald article on the MEPs delegation visit to Kashmir post abrogation of 370 was in the same vein as that of separatists and their international megaphones such as Bennion, Al Mashrika and others, it said, “The fact is that in inviting the MEPs, the Modi Government has borrowed the oldest trick from the book of authoritarian regimes to appear transparent in the face of criticism of their actions. Old communist regimes used to be particularly good at it. The trick was to invite a group of friendly “independent” foreign observers with zero knowledge of local conditions or politics to visit a troubled area ostensibly to see things for themselves. In effect, these “fact-finding” missions were anything but that…They were closely-monitored and heavily tutored conducted tours designed to present a sanitised picture of a difficult situation on the ground. Today’s visit will be no different. And for once, nobody is fooled.” Anti-India elements operating internationally and the Congress party were on the same page.
On the Pulitzer Prize, Kashmiri separatist groups such as “I Stand with Kashmir” and their operators were naturally ecstatic. The award made their task easy – that of keeping the Kashmir pot boiling internationally so that under the veil of a false human rights discourse, they could provide cover to Pakistan’s ongoing terror push into India. Some of the speakers, at the Virtual Kashmir Conference, re-tweeted the Associated Press’ announcement. Clair Bidwell was among those who endorsed the prize. Bidwell, a human rights busybody, who passes off as the founder of another ISI front, “Let Kashmir Decide” was a lead speaker at the Kashmir Virtual conference. Apart from organising programmes across Europe advocating “freedom” for Kashmir, Bidwell who maintains active contacts in PoJK facilitated by the Pakistani establishment had also initiated several petitions calling for international intervention in Kashmir – an UN-monitored referendum or plebiscite – which will lead to a free Kashmir.
The other speaker at the Virtual Kashmir conference was Andrea Burford, who claims to be a human rights activist. Burford is an active Labour Party member who is a part of “Keith Vaz’s Leicester East Constituency” and had, on September 7, 2019, used abusive language against Hindus during a protest march she had helped organise against the abrogation of Article 370. As per reports “the protest was also addressed by Leicester’s Assistant City Mayor Councillor Mustafa Malik, who is of Pakistani origin.” According to eyewitnesses and confirmed reports “Hindu hatred slogans like Hindu fascism were hurled from the protest march, the Swastika was displayed in a distorted form and linked to the “Nazi hate symbol” and PM Modi was called “Asian Hitler” implying that Hindus were like Nazis in their hate. Burford acts as an agent of Pakistani agencies and has been misusing her local political clout to generate hatred towards the Hindu community, India and PM Modi in her community and across the UK.
One other speaker at the Virtual Kashmir Conference who needs mentions is Soraya Boyd, founder of an NGO called Facilitate Global, whose area of focus is Palestine and Kashmir. Of French origin, Boyd has consistently spoken of free Kashmir and self-determination. In a paper titled ‘Kashmir’s right to self determine’ that she presented at a “seminar on “Human Rights in South Asia: Issues and Challenges” organised by London Institute of South Asia, School of Advanced Study, University of London on June 30, 2017, Boyd termed terrorist Burhan Wani, as a “super-hero”, she argued that “all religious minorities are persecuted in India”, likened terrorists operating in Kashmir to “members of the French resistance” against Nazi occupation, argued that there was “nothing surgical” about India’s surgical strikes, and claimed that the “damage Modi inflicted was mostly on civilians” and that Kashmir belongs to “no one else but the Kashmiri people” who are “integral actors in realising their country’s political destiny and international legal status…” At the Virtual Kashmir conference on May 3, one of the point that Boyd made was that “now COVID-19 outbreak has hit hard the region, still, the oppression of Indian government continues in these situations.” Boyd and Pakistan were on the same page.
The other elements speaking in the conference, such as Altaf Ahmed Bhat, chairman of the JK Salvation Movement and Fahim Kayani, president of the Tehreek-e-Kashmir are all certified Pakistani propagandists. One Jonathan Silberman, of the Communist League, was also a speaker. A representative of the far-left, his sympathies lay with the terrorists and separatists. Silberman’s connection with the Indian left cannot be ruled out since his line on Kashmir is similar to that of the Indian communist parties. This conference on Kashmir thus had speakers who, among them, have endorsed the breaking of India, are active in trying to shame India globally, have peddled the fake narrative of “Islamophobia”, have called for the “independence” of Kashmir and have applauded the Pulitzer Prize Board, for tacitly endorsing their line on India and Kashmir. All of them continue to actively contribute to furthering Pakistan’s anti-India propaganda in the West, especially in the UN human rights bodies and in the EU. Some of them, as we have seen, also find mention in Rahul Gandhi’s paper ‘National Herald’. Rahul appears to be knowingly siding with such elements.
Interestingly, if one were to look at the sequence and chronology of the events and statements made on Kashmir, CAA and India, it is established that the Congress, the Indian communists, far-left groups and Kashmiri separatists and Pakistan supported human rights outfits internationally, have held similar positions on Kashmir, on COVID19 in Kashmir and the Corona Lockdown in the state. A pandemic for them is an occasion to up the ante on the false narrative on Kashmir, to keep the issue boiling and to keep maligning India and Modi in international conference and diplomatic circuits and forums.
A survey of the last few months indeed shows that Pakistani sponsored international separatist cartels have not been silent on Kashmir or the CAA. At the onset of Corona, they had slightly retreated, only to become active in the last few weeks with the usual suspects in the international media and academia weaving false narratives mainly around Islamophobia in India, a Kashmir “under siege” and “excesses” of the Indian establishment on the anti-CAA protestors. These cartels thrive on peddling such tales with Pakistan and its agencies keeping them well-oiled and insulated.
The framework and contours of the anti-India movement worldwide stand on “terrorism, fake news and fake videos.” In his intervention at the recent online Summit of the NAM Contact Group on May 4, 2020, PM Modi spoke of how some elements spread other types of virus, the viruses of “fake videos, fake news and terrorism.” This is a triad which sustains and promotes fake narratives with the agenda of generating division, strife, instability and violence. Those individuals and organisations we have referred to, have been active haulers of these viruses which are manufactured in various “laboratories” across the world. Pakistan is one pre-eminent laboratory of manufacturing and then exporting such viruses. Rahul Gandhi, by endorsing organisations and individuals who are active super-spreaders of the virus of terrorism and fake news, is himself coming across as a fake politician who does not have India’s interest or international image in mind and is satisfied in trying to score a few paltry political points against Narendra Modi, even if that means endorsing and siding with forces and elements who are unalterably inimical to India. His endorsement of the Pulitzer line on Kashmir, his endorsement of the award itself shows the dangerous company Rahul Gandhi and the Congress party prefer keeping these days. He, therefore, needs to be called out and exposed at every given opportunity, since his public stand not only denigrates India but also allows the possibility of compromising her security interest and adversely affecting her international image and diplomatic standing. The Congress party which is increasingly veering to the fringe must also seriously introspect on its future. It risks complete political annihilation if it persists in repeatedly adopting such a negate-India stand and in playing with the fire of separatism. Meanwhile, the larger battle against terrorism and fake narratives must continue relentlessly. These viruses perpetually spread pandemic and therefore must be tracked, pursued, identified, quarantined and then neutralised.
(The writer is the Director, Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee Research Foundation)