Since revoking the special status of Jammu and Kashmir, and the subsequent security measures taken to fight jihadi groups, India has been on the hot seat. Members of Congress, prominent media outlets, and even senior State Department officials are suddenly tasked with trying to understand complicated situations with little or no background in the history or politics of South Asia, or the various forces at work in complex situations.
This is a situation ripe for abuse by unscrupulous rivals who would seek to use this dearth of information to manipulate policymakers through disinformation.
Last year, a US Congressional hearing on Kashmir went poorly for India. This is in significant part due to the fact that US franchises of Jamaat-e-Islami (recently banned in Kashmir for working with terrorist groups), mainly the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA), and the new shadowy group Stand With Kashmir, which celebrates jihadis and is closely aligned with many Islamist groups, sought from the outset to slant the discussion away from terrorist groups, and instead focus almost entirely on overreach by the Indian government.
US franchises of Jamaat-e-Islami have sought to slant discussion of Kashmir away from terrorism.
Yet, this is not the only time South Asian connected Islamist groups have sought to bend the narrative against India and toward its rivals, it is only the most public and well known. But other Jamaat-e-Islami franchise groups have been damaging India by downplaying their affiliations with jihadis and seeking to help the Islamist cause. This includes up to and including hiring the high-powered law firm of Perkins Coie to misinform Congress concerning potential terror finance flowing from the US to the Kashmir region.
Perkins Coie is perhaps most famous for representing the Democratic National Committee and Hillary for America in 2016, at which point it was responsible for the creation of the infamous "Steele Dossier," consisting of wildly implausible accusations against then-presidential candidate Donald Trump. One commentator declared it "one of the most malignant documents in modern American history." Yet Perkins also made headlines in years past for defending various terror-linked suspects, such as Osama Bin-Laden's driver and bodyguard, Salim Hamdan.
More recently, Perkins Coie was hired by ICNA and its self-described "sister organization," the international aid organization Helping Hand for Relief and Development (HHRD).
As reported by veteran Indian reporter Aarti Tikoo Singh and others stateside, ICNA and HHRD have enlisted a large umbrella group, InterAction, to assist in lobbying Congress. This lobbying was done in an attempt to push back against Congressional efforts to investigate HHRD's affiliations with various Kashmiri terrorist organizations, such as Lashkar-e-Taiba and Hizb-ul-Mujahideen.
InterAction's lobbying was used to distribute an impressive looking memo, authored by Perkins Coie. This memo responded to a letter spearheaded by Rep. Jim Banks (R-IN) and also signed by Reps. Chuck Fleishmann (R-TN) and Randy Weber (R-TX), which raised concerns about HHRD's terrorist affiliations. Specifically citing concerns about "The ongoing tension and violence in Kashmir," the letter raised concerns about ICNA/HHRD, saying it is "(V)ital that the US do whatever it can to stop the flow of any and all funds that that we can to terrorist organizations in the region."
The letter states its reasons for concern methodically. First, citing Professor Vali Naser, a respected academic from Johns Hopkins University, the letter says that ICNA/HHRD is a key component of Jamaat-e-Islami's international network. Naser states in his book Vanguard of the Islamic Revolution, that there are eight Jamaat branches in the world, one of which is HHRD's "sister organization" ICNA (Naser is hardly alone in this obvious conclusion).
Second, HHRD has openly arranged conferences with the terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba. Third, HHRD and ICNA are openly funding and collaborating with extremist groups in Pakistan, such as Jamaat-e-Islami's Al Khidmat Foundation—which, while not designated by the US, funds and supports designated terrorist groups.
And finally, a former ICNA and HHRD associate, Fareed Khan, was recently convicted of lying to the FBI during a terror finance investigation concerning a money laundering scheme to benefit terrorists in Kashmir.
The congressmen's letter concludes that further investigation is needed, and implores administration officials to take action.
The Perkins memo shows that little has changed since the "Steele Dossier" days. Instead of responding to the substance of the Congressman's complaints, it muddies the waters by attacking straw men, inventing hyper-technical distinctions and ignoring demonstrable facts.
The memo claims it is "false" to claim that Jamaat and ICNA/HHRD have shared leadership. While the congressmen's letter does not in fact claim "shared leadership," several current and former leaders in ICNA/HHRD were indeed former officials in other Jamaat branches. HHRD Chairman Mohsin Ansari, for example, is an alumnus of Islami Jamiat-e-Talaba, the student wing of Jamaat's branch in Pakistan. Former ICNA vice-president Ashrafuzzaman Khan is a convicted war criminal in Bangladesh for his role in acts of genocide as a former leader of a Jamaat-e-Islami killing squad during Bangladesh's 1971War for Independence.
The Perkins Coie memo goes on to decry a "false narrative" concerning the fact that HHRD organized a conference in Pakistan in 2017 with the Falah-e-Insaniat Foundation (FIF), a US and UN designated charitable arm of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), the terrorist movement responsible for the 2008 Mumbai attacks, which killed 166 people.
The Perkins memo explicitly admits that HHRD was a "participating sponsor" of the event in question, and that FIF was part of the event. But it is claimed that HHRD was not the "organizer" of the event, and conveniently tries to blame local Pakistani officials for inviting FIF. It is further stressed that FIF had no speaking role at the conference.
Both of these contentions are implausible and are explicitly contradicted by Pakistani media reports, which state that the conference was "arranged" by HHRD and that FIF officials "address[ed] the participants." But even if the Perkins Coie's claims are somehow true—that HHRD is sponsoring conferences in terror-saturated regions of the world and has no control over its cooperation with US designated terrorist groups, it should concern Congress a great deal. However, this is not even the first time FIF has appeared alongside HHRD: in a 2009 report, HHRD openly mentions FIF as a fellow aid organization.
Moreover, the memo does not address the fact that the conference also featured the Milli Muslim League, LeT's political wing, which was itself later designated by the US and UN. Perkins undoubtedly fears the full truth might make an already implausible claim look even less plausible.
Additionally, Perkins Coie also neglects to mention HHRD and ICNA's work with the Al-Khidmat Foundation, Jamaat-e-Islami's self-described welfare arm. HHRD brags on its own website about involvement in 214 different projects with Al-Khidmat, despite clear evidence that Al-Khidmat subsidizes terrorism. According to the Indian BBC journalist Subir Bhaumik, Al-Khidmat "aids militancy and helps to support the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen, Jamaat's armed wing." If that weren't enough, in 2006, Jamaat-e- Islami itself announced that Al-Khidmat had sent 6 million rupees ($100,000) to the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas for its "just jihad." Of course, ICNA/HHRD could hardly be expected to protest Al-Khidmat's donation: Sheikh Muhammad Siyam, a senior member of the Hamas military wing, once spoke at an ICNA convention.
Finally, as for the conviction last September of former ICNA and HHRD associate Fareed Khan for lying to the FBI, the memo goes to great lengths to highlight legal wrangling and to ignore the plain facts: Kahn was convicted of "(M)aking a false statement during an interview with federal law enforcement." Among those lies, according to the Department of Justice, was lying about his involvement with ICNA and about the contents of packages he sent to his brother in Pakistan, a Lashkar-e-Taiba supporter. His case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Joint Terrorism Task Force and his arrest stemmed from an active terrorism investigation. Khan was indicted by a grand jury concerning false statements made "in a matter involving international terrorism." These are documented facts, and irrefutable.
This is not the first time that ICNA has gotten tough questions about Congress concerning its activities and potential funding of terror. But the fact that its leaders are now hiring high-powered law firms in a misleading attempt to stupefy Congressional sleuthing shows they are scared. But it also shows that they think they can get away with it.
Congress must not fall prey to misinformation about Kashmir and Jamaat-e-Islami's jihadi support network.
One of the most common refrains from political, policy and economic thinkers is that, particularly in the aftermath of Covid-19, it is mutually beneficial for the US and India to have a closer relationship. This will happen much less easily if Congress falls prey to misinformation about Kashmir, terrorism, and Jamaat-e-Islami's jihadi support network in South Asia.
No person who has lived and worked in D.C. for any length of time can be naïve about how business is often done. Mudslinging, investigators digging up dirt to discredit opponents, and even defending criminality or terrorism, are relatively common practices. But the paucity of sophisticated understanding of South Asia makes these underhanded tactics far more effective, if they go unchallenged.
India must not let this happen.