By South Asia Press Team
Nisar Ahmed Chaudhry, a resident of Maryland, was a well-known figure in diplomatic circles in the United States. He frequently interacted with think tanks and other institutes in Washington D.C. that shape U.S. foreign policy, organising roundtables and conferences on Pakistan with the contacts he cultivated in the U.S. and Pakistani officials. He often organized events at the United States Institute of Peace, a think tank funded by the U.S. Congress. His activities as head of the Pakistan-American League, he claimed, were solely educational in nature, and in no way affiliated with the Pakistani government.
But in 2018, Chaudhry was convicted under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) for failing to disclose that he was an agent of the Pakistani government. The investigation into his activities revealed that for six years, between 2012 and 2018, he had influenced U.S. foreign policy in favour of Pakistan without ever disclosing it. He now faces a maximum of five years in prison.
Interestingly, there are no official Pakistani “foreign agents” or FARA registered lobbyists in the U.S., a position the Pakistani embassy’s media spokesperson maintained, speaking with a leading Pakistani daily, in April this year.
However, South Asia Press investigations found otherwise, and that there are many individuals who work to “influence operations” on behalf of the Pakistani government in the U.S., but are not declared agents.
Speaking with South Asia Press, a leading expert on Pakistan, Dr. Christine Fair said “These are also the most difficult to prove because Pakistan has been very effective at laundering the money through diasporans who then “donate” the money to think-tanks to conduct “research” and hold “conferences.”.
The role of the ISI in secret lobbying in the US
Pakistan has a long history of lobbying the United States government to influence their foreign policy in favour of Pakistan, and has for many years been hiring lobbying firms for their efforts in the US. This is legal only if the firm is registered appropriately under U.S. law. However, many individuals continue to work to influence U.S. foreign policy on behalf of the Pakistani government without disclosing their status as agents of a foreign government. The United States’ Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) makes this illegal, and any agents who are connected with a foreign government or working in the interests of foreign powers in either a political or quasi-political capacity are required to disclose these connections and maintain transparency of their financial activity.
According to a former Pakistani diplomat, the unregistered lobbying is controlled by the country’s notorious intelligence service, ISI.
“The Pakistani Foreign service comprises professionals who know that it is inappropriate to break a country’s laws while lobbying,” the diplomat said. “The military people do not understand diplomatic norms or rules. They just want to advance the Kashmir cause or engage in anti-India activities, ignoring international law.”
Fair, the expert on Pakistan, was aware of Chaudhry’s activities long before his conviction, and had repeatedly reported him to the FBI, “Nisar Chaudhry frequently arranged meetings with influential Pakistan Military [officials] and he shopped these meetings around to various “think tanks.” United States Institute of Peace (USIP), happily hosted him and his entourages.” She had been invited to an event at the United States Institute of Peace by Chaudhry himself, who said he wanted to facilitate a rapprochement between her and the Pakistan army, in 2017 prior to his arrest.
Another curious case is that of Moeed Yusuf, the former Vice President for Asia at the USIP. Dr Fair had for many years been drawing attention to Yusuf’s role at the USIP, saying that he used the platform of the organisation to propagate a pro-Pakistan policy. According to Dr Fair, in programme documents written by Yusuf and his colleagues, the USIP took an overtly pro-Pakistan stance, leading to Fair reporting him to the FBI and U.S. House Oversight Committee under suspicions that he was working for the Pakistan government, only to be ignored. Fair’s concerns over Moeed Yusuf were confirmed with his recent appointment to the post of National Security Adviser to the Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan.
Pakistan’s Nexus with American Academia
The Pakistan government has also actively built a network of scholars, who they invite to Pakistan to present their research, or to show them their military operation sites. Dr. Fair told South Asia Press about a co-author she worked with being contacted by the Ministry of Information in Pakistan to write a book about the 1971 Bangladesh liberation war, for which he would be compensated and also be given access to important archival information. The government’s choice of person was very deliberate, in Fair’s opinion, since he is not an expert on Pakistan, and is eager to publish a book and be compensated for it and was thus, easily lured in by the loaded offer.
Pakistan also exerts a great deal of control over think tanks and military universities in the United States. The Middle East Institute has gone as far as to allegedly ban established academic critical of Pakistan like Dr. Fair, who is also excluded from activities of the National Defense University in Washington D.C.
Thomas F. Lynch, a research fellow at the National Defense University himself has stated in an interview that it is “undeniably true” that Pakistan does make a concerted effort to exclude certain voices, and that the National Defense University “may honour requests” made by the Pakistan government with regard to inviting speakers to the university.
Covert and Overt Lobbying by Pakistan – AGENDA: Kashmir
Other recent examples of individuals “influencing operations” secretly on behalf of Pakistani government and convicted under FARA include Syed Ghulam Nabi Fai, a U.S. citizen who was funded by the ISI, and used his links to Capitol Hill to manipulate the narrative over Kashmir in Pakistan’s favour. He was the head of the Kashmir American Council which claimed to be an independent voice for Kashmiris funded by Americans to educate the U.S. about the Kashmiri peoples’ struggle. He was arrested by the FBI in 2011 and charged with secretly lobbying for Pakistan, and receiving over $400,000 in funding from the ISI. But Fai’s ability to infiltrate and influence US Congress members points towards a much larger problem of US democracy itself, and how illegal foreign money has found a place in US politics.
According to the retired diplomat in conversation with South Asia Press, “On several occasions, unlawful Pakistani influence operations have resulted in Pakistani agents being arrested by the FBI in the U.S. But that has not stopped the Pakistani military from continuing with its activities. People are dispensable when you embrace Jihad as your cause.”
Pakistan has also hired several paid lobbyists in the U.S., including Brown Lloyd James, a lobbying firm used by China, in the United States in an effort to influence the narrative over Kashmir and build support for Pakistan in Capitol Hill. Other lobbying firms have been hired for the same purpose, including Holland & Knight, which ex-Congressman Tom Reynolds was an important part of, along with other Capitol Hill veterans.
The US law allows for lobbying groups to function legally in the country, to work to influence their foreign policy, a seriously flawed system due to which, “virtually anyone can buy our democracy”, says Dr. Fair. “But this is our law. The best we can do is show light on its pernicious effects, which in the case of Pakistan has resulted in the deaths of thousands of Americans in Afghanistan.”