A Pakistani politician from Prime Minister Imran Khan‘s ruling Tehreek-e-Insaf party has hired a longtime Kashmiri rights advocate as the country looks to the new Joe Biden administration to put pressure on its rival India.
Bilal Ahmed Ghaffar, a member of the provincial assembly of Sindh, has signed two year-long contracts worth a total of $7,000 a month with Chinar Consulting and Kashmir Action Network. Both firms were founded last October by Washington-based activist Carin Jodha Fischer.
The Chinar contract calls on Fischer to conduct government, media and public relations involving “working on coalition funding, counterterrorism, foreign policy, and political forecasting initiatives.” Kashmir Action Network’s role meanwhile will focus on “grassroots lobbying to raise awareness about the complete absence of civil and democratic rights, the shrinking political rights, and the absolute crushing of the will and determination of the Kashmiri people.”
Fischer is a German-American activist who lived in Kashmir for 10 years, according to her Twitter account. She runs a blog that discusses issues in the region and is a habitual presence at events denouncing Indian policies in the region.
Both accounts call on Fischer to liaise with the Pakistani Embassy in Washington. She did not respond to a request for comment.
The new lobbying push comes as US-Pakistani relations face a host of challenges.
While Islamabad wants the new administration to stick to the Donald Trump administration’s peace deal with Afghanistan and the accompanying US troop withdrawal, Biden’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan told his Afghan counterpart Hamdullah Mohib last week that the US plans to review the deal. As for Kashmir, Pakistan may have a hard time convincing the new administration to forcefully step in after India responded to Trump’s mediation offer in 2019 by revoking the long-standing special autonomy status for Indian-controlled Kashmir.
“The Biden administration will certainly not be interested in going the direction that the Pakistanis want it to go in, which is to essentially try to push back against what India is doing in Kashmir and to try to distance itself from India,” said Michael Kugelman, the senior associate for South Asia at the Wilson Center.
US policy has long been to consider the Kashmir dispute a bilateral issue between Pakistan and India, and even Trump’s mediation offer called on both parties to agree to third-party assistance. New Delhi has never sought outside help in regards to Kashmir, and Kugelman said Washington’s reliance on India to counterbalance China will discourage interference.
“The last thing this administration would want to do is rock the boat,” he said.
Fischer is the latest addition to Pakistan’s unique foreign influence operation in the United States.
The embassy has retained Houston-based Linden Government Solutions on an unusual pro bono contract allows the firm to try to collect payment from the diaspora community. The embassy extended its contract with Linden earlier this month for another three months until April 15, 2021.
Meanwhile several US groups claiming affiliation with the ruling Tehreek-e-Insaf party have recently registered as foreign agents amid apparent political infighting among the diaspora.
Advocacy around Kashmir specifically predates Fischer’s new contracts. In 2019 the Houston-based International Humanitarian Foundation, which supports India’s withdrawal from the disputed territory, signed a $50,000 contract with New York public relations firm Fenton Communications ahead of Prime Minister Khan’s September visit to the US for the UN General Assembly.
Fenton said it helped score Khan’s appearance on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program. The prime minister used the opportunity to lambaste India’s decision to revoke Kashmir’s semi-autonomous status and took Trump up on his offer to help with the crisis.