Lobbying by US-based Islamist groups against India on grounds of religious freedom

NEW DELHI: There has been a continual lobbying against India, particularly on the grounds of religious freedom, by influencing the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), The Disinfolab reported.

India was listed as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) in the religious freedom reports of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) in 2020 and 2021. However, the US State Department rejected USCIRF’s recommendation to enlist India as CPC.

The efforts by the Jamaat front in the US, ICNA and JFA succeeded in labelling India as an ‘intolerant’ nation and placing it under the CPC to affect India’s soft image, the report said. Massive efforts were mobilised to get India listed as CPC by the USCIRF for two consecutive years, whcih included planned lobbying by the US-based Islamist groups, the report said.

The group comprised the US-wing of Jamaat, Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA), and Burma Task Force (BTF), a project of Justice For All (JFA) and powered by Sound Vision — all having links to Pakistani Jamaat-e-Islami and global terror groups, Lashkar-e-Taiba and Hizbul Mujahideen.

The first signs of aggressive lobbying against India can be traced back to 2013-14 when IAMC hired a professional lobbying firm, Fidelis Government Relations (FGR), for $40K to lobby for the USCIRF.

Lobbying efforts had mainly two outcomes: Starting in 2014, USCIRF in its annual reports started using a distorted map of India and started enlisting India as a “Country of Particular Concern”.

The network seemed to have managed to influence USCIRF chair Nadine Maenza and commissioner Anurima Bhargava, and former USCIRF policy analyst Harrisson Akins via lobbying efforts. Nadine and Anurima attended several webinars hosted by one key organisation — Justice for All (JFA), an umbrella organisation powered by the multimedia wing of Jamaat in the US, Sound Vision.

All three USCIRF officials came from interesting backgrounds. Harrison Akins was mentored by the former Pakistani High Commissioner to the UK and diplomat Akbar Ahmad, who served as the civil servant for Pakistan and was posted as Deputy Secretary in Bangladesh during the 1971 liberation war that witnessed mass genocide in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh).

Anurima Bhargava, who is now the Commissioner at USCIRF, is a former member of the Open Society Foundation, while Nadine Maenza, who is currently the chair of USCIRF, has a history of associations with organisations ranging from Patriot Voices (lobbying group) and Hardwired Global (an NGO).

Interestingly, Shaik Ubaid’s colleague Angana Chatterji, along with whom he co-founded Coalition Against Genocide (CAG), is one of the advisory board members with Nadine at Hardwired Global.

The second lobbying effort took place in 2018-20 through an organisation called Burma Task Force (BTF), founded by Shaik Ubaid and a 1971 Bangladeshi war criminal, Ashraffuzaman Khan. An amount of $267K was spent, and as a result, USCIRF listed India under CPC in consecutive years in 2020 and 2021.