Independent observers point to the similarity in USCIRF’s India ‘findings’ with the propaganda spread by groups and individuals known to be working for Pakistan.
New Delhi: An annual report, which will be released by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) on 25 April, will again recommend putting India on the “blacklist” as “Country of Particular Concern” (CPC), a practice that has been going on since 2020. This, relevant officials in the North Block and the South Block say, will confirm their findings that the body is working on a set anti-India “agenda”.
While the USCIRF—which was created in 1998 under the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) to “independently” monitor universal right to freedom of religion outside of the United States—and its findings are rarely taken seriously in India because of its “biased” reports and are dismissed by India’s Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) tersely, the fact that for three years it has been able to put India on what it calls a list of “Countries of Particular Concerns”, shows how influential the anti-India lobby in the US has become in the last few years and the resources that are being spent to generate anti-India sentiments in Western countries, say officials tracking the matter.
Earlier in the week, several US-based so-called civil rights and faith groups wrote to USCIRF asking it to again recommend India’s inclusion among the “world’s worst persecutors of religious minorities”. Among the signatories are Indian American Muslim Council, Hindus for Human Rights, Jubilee Campaign USA, International Christian Concern, India Civil Watch International, Federation of Indian American Christian Organisations, Dalit Solidarity Forum in the USA, Cameroon American Council, Asian Children Education Fellowship, Association of Indian Muslims of America, International Society for Peace and Justice, Justice For All, Dar El Eman, Coeur d’Alene Bible Church, New Life Church, Fresh Heart Ministries, Greentree Global Pokane Fatherhood Initiative, Indian Muslim Association of Carolinas, Christian Freedom International and International Asian Christian Front.
The countries on the CPC list, as per the laws, can be put on the sanctions list by the US President. More importantly, this list is used by global lobbying agencies to discourage investors from investing in the country concerned, and is also used to dent the country’s soft power and global image.
In November 2021, United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken released a list of 10 countries on the US government’s official list of the world’s worst offenders of religious freedom. A notable omission was India. Similarly, in 2020, then-Secretary State, Mike Pompeo, too, had refused to include India on the list despite a recommendation being made by the USCIRF.
In 2021, Nadine Maenza, the chair of USCIRF, had recommended to impose targeted sanctions on Indian government agencies and officials responsible for the “severe religious freedom violations” by freezing their assets, including barring their entry into the US.
According to Indian officials, who are posted in the West and are tracking these developments, the recent surge in anti-India speeches and events that are being organised in Western countries where Indian “influencers” are being invited on an all-expenses paid trip to share their views on the “religious intolerance” taking place in the country is related to this annual report releasing exercise, apart from making a fresh bid to present India as a country where religious persecution has increased manifold in the recent times.
What has also caught the attention of independent observers is the similarity in the “findings” of USCIRF when it comes to India and the propaganda that is spread by groups and individuals who are known to be working for Pakistan’s interests at the global level.
The USCIRF, in 2014, changed India’s map, and removed Jammu and Kashmir, Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh from India. While J&K is regarded as “disputed” by Pakistan, Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh are termed as “disputed” by China, Pakistan’s “iron brother”.
Maenza, who joined the USCIRF in 2018, had earlier worked for US politician Rick Santorum, a known friend of Pakistan. Maenza is also president of an organisation called “Patriot Voices”, which was founded by Santorum in 2012. Among her colleagues at Patriot Voices, is Terry Allen, who also happens to be a partner in a lobby firm called Fidelis Government Relations (FGR).
FGR was hired by Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC) to lobby with USCIRF to target India. For their services, FGR was paid $40,000 between 2013 and 2014 alone by IAMC. IAMC is headed by Rasheed Ahmed, who was executive director (2008-17) of Islamic Medical Association of North America (IMANA), which was accused of embezzling public Covid funds. IMANA’s Director of Operations, Zahid Mahmood is an ex-Pakistan Navy official.
FGR was also hired by Burma Task Force (BTF), another anti-India front, which was founded by Shaik Ubaid, who gave $267,000 to FGR between 2018-2020 to lobby against India with the US Congress among others.
BTF also hosted ISI agent Ghulam Nabi Fai, who was found guilty in 2011 by the FBI for concealing the transfer of US$3.5 million from the US to Pakistan and was a well-known lobbying agent for Kashmiri separatists at the behest of ISI. Fai has also been seen frequently with “human rights” activist Angana Chatterji. Shaik Ubaid was a founding member of Coalition Against Genocide along with Angana Chatterji. Chatterji was with USCIRF Commissioner Maenza in another of her companies, Hardwired Global.
BTF, as per officials, is another front for Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA). ICNA played a crucial role in banning the then Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the US in 2005.
ICNA’s earlier avatar was Halqa-e-Ahbab-e-Islami (HAI) which was set up in 1968. One of the convicts in the Genocide of Bengali intellectuals in 1971, Ashrafuz Zaman Khan was associated with ICNA Queen’s Chapter New York. He was also one of the co-founders of Burma Task Force. ICNA’s connection with Jamaat-e-Islami and Hizbul Mujahideen founder Syed Salahuddin are well documented.
In 2016, ICNA generated a lot of headlines after it felicitated Motiur Rahman Nizami—the leader of Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami and Al-Badr—who was responsible for the mass genocide of Bengali intellectuals during the Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971. ICNA honoured him posthumously for his “Outstanding Contribution” to Islam and his role in the 1971 tragedy.
A crucial role played in the 2020 USCIRF report that called for blacklisting India was by Harrison Akins, a policy analyst with the organisation. Akins has been Ibn Khaldun Chair Research Fellow at American University’s School of International Services, where his mentor was Akbar Ahmad. Akbar Ahmad is a former Pakistani high commissioner to the UK.
Experts in India allege that not just Pakistan, even People’s Republic of China is involved in all these activities in a bid to throw a spanner in the burgeoning India-US relations.
Emails sent to USCIRF seeking their response on matter did not generate any response until the time the news report went to print.