Pakistan’s terror-connected Islamist network in Houston revealed
Affected Countries: pakistan;
The Pakistani regime, making use of lobbyists, congressmen, terror supporters, and well-organized grassroots networks of American Pakistani Muslims, is working hard to advance a radical, Islamist-inspired agenda at the highest levels in the United States, using Kashmir as its cause.
One Texas-based group, Friends of Kashmir, stands at the forefront of one of these efforts.
On August 5, 2020, Friends of Kashmir and its head – a prominent pro-Pakistani activist, writer and self-described poet named Ghazala Habib – organized an online event, in collaboration with the Pakistani embassy and its consulate in Houston, to discuss the “Crisis in Kashmir.”
In a sign of the Pakistani regime’s growing influence, speakers included the two co-chairs of the United States Congress’s Pakistan Caucus, the President of Pakistan-administered Kashmir, and the Pakistani ambassador to the United States and the Houston consul-general.
Other advertised speakers included Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson, along with Texas state legislators Ron Reynolds and Terry Meza.
The webinar was held to mark Youm-e-Istehsal, or ‘Day of Exploitation,’ an annual event recently established by Imran Khan’s government to bemoan India’s “seizure” of Kashmir in 2019.
During the webinar, broadcast on social media and American Pakistani television channel TVOne USA, Congressional Caucus co-chairs Representatives Jim Banks and Sheila Jackson Lee offered the dignified remarks expected of seasoned statesmen.
Banks, who has otherwise been an outspoken critic of South Asian Islamist movements, explained his intention to “draw attention to what’s going on in Kashmir” and “provide American leadership.” Jackson Lee expressed broad support for “security” and “human rights.” She fleetingly praised Imran Khan’s leadership, but quickly switched to topics such as COVID and unrelated events in Lebanon.
The Pakistani regime’s write-up of the congressmembers and their remarks, however, was somewhat different, including false claims that Representative Banks was “co-chair” of Friends of Kashmir. And indeed, the rest of the webinar was strikingly more militant.
AJK President Khan saluted Ghazala Habib for her “outstanding contribution” through Friends of Kashmir. He repeatedly compared the situation of the Kashmiris to that of the Jews under the Nazis, calling their plight a “genocide,” and asking why there had been no equivalent of the Nuremberg trials for Indian government officials, whom he likened to “Hitler and his cohort.”
With offices also in Islamabad and Karachi, Friends of Kashmir describes itself as a U.S. based “International Non Political Organization which aims to Impart Awareness Worldwide regarding Kashmir Issue, Kashmir [sic] status, and Kashmiris [sic] genocide at the hands of Indian Forces in occupied Kashmir.”
Unsurprisingly, such activities are the product of close collaboration with the Pakistani regime. During the webinar, Ghazala Habib thanked the Pakistani government for opening the “consulate doors for us 24/7,” describing it as “our first home.” In fact, Habib is also on close terms with President Masood Khan, who has repeatedly posted photos and comments about his meetings with her, some at his own house.
Habib does not just represent the interests of the Pakistani regime; she is also endorsed by prominent Kashmiri terror activists. In 2020, leaders of the Kashmiri Hurriyat political alliance, including Syed Ali Gilani and Asiya Andrabi, appointed Ghazala Habib as their representative in the United States.
Gilani is an infamous Kashmiri separatist who used to serve as the “Head of Jihad” for the now banned branch of the Islamist movement Jamaat-e-Islami in Jammu & Kashmir. Andrabi, meanwhile, founded the banned outfit Dukhtaran-e-Millat (Daughters of the Nation), which, The Economist notes, “supports terrorists” and advocates jihad. Andrabi claims to have embraced al-Qaeda officials, telling them that if “you belong to Sheikh Osama’s al-Qaeda then you are very welcome because he was a legitimate leader of Jihad.”
Andrabi has long been involved with Friends of Kashmir. In February 2017, the Texas group organized a conference at which the pro-Al Qaeda Andrabi spoke remotely, along with terror activists such as Yasin Malik and Shabir Shah, both of whom were arrested by Indian law enforcement in 2019.
It emerged that Malik had apparently “visited the [designated terrorist organization] Lashkar e Taiba (LeT) camps in Muree in Pakistan occupied Kashmir and addressed the LeT cadres there.” As for Shah, he was reportedly “in touch with the global terrorist Hafeez Sayeed, chief of banned outfit ‘Jamat-ud-Dawa’ based in Pakistan,” and received “money for carrying out separatist activities in J&K.”
In January 2021, Friends of Kashmir and Habib organized a protest in support of Malik, Shah, and Andrabi, in which she referred to the violent extremists as “heroes” and the “Kashmiri leadership.”
Despite her connections to terrorists, Habib claims in an interview to “already have moral support” in the United States “from many senators, Congressmen and influential people from the business community.”
Habib was far from the only terror-tied speaker to share a platform with several members of the United States Congress. Star speaker Riffat Wani is a Kashmiri activist under investigation by Jammu and Kashmir Police. Wani regularly expresses support for terrorists on social media. She has glowingly described the late,
infamous Kashmiri terrorist Burhan Wani as one of “those who inspire others to resist occupation.” Burhan was a commander of the terrorist organization Hizbul Mujahideen, who successfully persuaded young Kashmiris to “join the holy war.”
In fact, Riffat Wani frequently appears to honor “mujahideen” killed in violent clashes with Indian law enforcement, such as praising the “martyrdom” of the infamous terrorist operative Riyaz Naikoo.
Other advertised speakers at the webinar included a spokesperson of terror-linked Khalistani group Sikhs for Justice; as well as Raja Najabat Hussain and Abdul Hameed Lone, both of whom are officials of the JK Self Determination Movement International, which security services claim to be a front for Pakistan’s ISI. Another senior Pakistani politician listed as a presenter was Mushahid Hussain Syed, a former regime minister who has openly praised the activities of the murderous terrorist organization Lashkar-e-Taiba.
British-Pakistani activist and politician Lord Nazir Ahmed was also featured in advertising for the event, although was not brought out to speak at any point. Perhaps his presence was considered unhelpful following his anticipated eviction from Britain’s House of Lords, all while he awaited trial on child abuse and attempted rape charges.
Lord Ahmed, who has a long history of involvement with Islamist causes in the United Kingdom, has been involved with Friends of Kashmir for several years.
He is a prominent figure in Pakistan as well, where, in a television interview given in 2013, he proffered anti-Semitic claims that a previous conviction against him for “dangerous driving” in Britain was only handed down because of pressure placed on the courts by a secret cabal of Jews who also “own newspapers and TV channels.”
In March 2020, Lord Ahmed was listed as a speaker at another Friends of Kashmir event, alongside half a dozen prominent Pakistani politicians and Kashmiri leaders. They were due to be joined by Ghulam Nabi Fai, a Kashmiri-American activist convicted in an American court in 2011 of serving as an agent of Pakistan’s ISI.
As these examples show, the August webinar, featuring alleged rapists, terror-supporters, anti-Semites, ISI-connected activists and U.S. Congressmembers was not a one-off example.
In fact, it is just the latest initiative of an energetic Pakistani regime influence operation, based in Texas, which is working alongside Islamists from Europe and South Asia to influence American legislators and media, and to manipulate American Muslims’ grassroots power.
This network’s efforts are yielding results. In a recent document published by the Pakistani Embassy, officials presented putative endorsement of the regime’s position by 20 Senators and Congressmembers.
These elected officials, along with thinktanks, human rights organizations and media outlets, have been, the embassy reports, successfully encouraged to discuss “Indian oppression” in Kashmir – a “burden on humanity’s conscience.”
Hiring a leading communications firm was one important step for the Houston network. The other was procuring powerful contacts. The Pakistani-American Political Committee, or PAKPAC, is the chief lobbying organization and election financier for Pakistani interests in the United States.
As the Pakistani embassy noted in its own write-up, PAKPAC official Dr. Rao Kamran Ali was closely involved with the August 5 webinar. And during that webinar, in fact, Representative Banks noted Ali had been a “tremendous resource” who “helped [him and his staff] understand these very important geopolitical issues.”
PAKPAC and its officials are registered financiers of the election campaigns for both webinar speakers Representative Jim Banks and Representative Sheila Jackson Lee, who, together, co-chair the Congressional Pakistan Caucus. Data from the Federal Election Commission reveals that PAKPAC itself has contributed thousands of dollars to these politicians’ coffers, with tens of thousands more coming from wealthy Pakistani businessmen and doctors also tied to PAKPAC and other Pakistani regime-linked entities.
In response to these moneys, while Jackson Lee has, reportedly, effusively praised Imran Khan’s “visionary leadership,” Banks has taken a more diplomatic, circumspect approach, leading regime-friendly Pakistani media quite deliberately to misreport Banks’ work on the question of Kashmir, falsely claiming that the congressman’s calls for the United States to “diffuse tensions” included a demand that the U.S. “highlight Indian atrocities.”
Despite Banks’ neutrality, his leadership of the Caucus has included working with his donors and constituents, such as PAKPAC members Farrukh Adhami and Abdali Jan, to host a visit to Congress in July 2019 by Pakistan’s Imran Khan.
Other active donors include PAKPAC board members such as Gohar Salam, as well as prominent businessmen tied to the regime, such as Democratic Party donor Tahir Javed. Quite a few donors to both Jackson Lee and Banks, including Adhami and Jan, are senior members of both PAKPAC and the Association of Physicians of Pakistani Descent of North America (APPNA), which describes PAKPAC as one of its “subsidiaries.”
These are not simply diaspora community organizations, but key institutions of the Pakistani regime’s influence efforts. Prime Minister Imran Khan has even reportedly described APPNA as Pakistan’s “most powerful” lobbying group.
APPNA is also a close partner of Jamaat-e-Islami’s largest franchise in the United States, the Islamic Circle of North America. As the Middle East Forum previously uncovered, in 2017, one of ICNA’s leading branches, a charity named Helping Hand for Relief and Development (HHRD), openly partnered with the designated terrorist organization Lashkar-e-Taiba.