Pitts tied to two agents involved in alleged Pakistani plot

U.S. Rep. Joe Pitts

U.S. Rep. Joe Pitts received campaign contributions from two men at the heart of an alleged covert plot by Pakistan's military and spy agency to influence American policy on Kashmir, federal elections records show.

The Republican lawmaker also had praised the work of a Kashmiri activist group the FBI says was being secretly run by the Pakistani government to sway policymakers against allowing India to control part of Kashmir, records show.

Pitts, who has been outspoken on the need for peace in Kashmir, was said to be unaware of the group's alleged ties to the Pakistani government and upset about his campaign's acceptance of two $2,000 contributions in 2004 from the suspects.

"Immediately after he found out yesterday - he was pretty upset about it - he right away called the campaign and donated $2,000 to the Lancaster Boys and Girls Club and $2,000 to the Water Street Rescue Mission," Andrew Wimer, a spokesman for Pitts, said Wednesday.

Pitts, who represents Lancaster County, "had no clue" of the group's alleged secret agenda, Wimer said.

The Justice Department on Tuesday alleged that Pakistan's spy agency funneled millions of dollars to Syed Ghulam Nabi Fai and the nonprofit Kashmiri American Council in a secret effort to influence Congress and the White House.

Under the supervision of a senior member of Inter-Services Intelligence, Fai gave money to political campaigns, authored essays for newspapers, organized congressional trips and met with White House and State Department officials, authorities allege.

A second man, Zaheer Ahmad, also was charged. Prosecutors allege he recruited people to act as straw donors who would give money to the Kashmiri American Council that really was coming from the Pakistani government.

Both men are U.S. citizens.

Pitts' re-election campaign, Friends of Joe Pitts, received contributions from Fai and Ahmad in September 2004, when the congressman was seeking a fifth term in the House, data on file with the Federal Election Commission show.

The Pitts campaign received $2,000 each from Fai and Ahmad on Sept. 13, 2004.

The two men were charged by the FBI on Tuesday with participating in a "long-term conspiracy" to act as agents of Pakistan's government here without disclosing their affiliation, as required by law.

"Foreign governments who try to influence the United States by using unregistered agents threaten our national security," James McJunkin, the FBI's Washington Field Office assistant director, said at a Tuesday news conference.

The FBI said it had no evidence that elected officials who got contributions from Fai and Ahmad were aware that the money came from the Pakistani government.

Fai is the director of the Washington-based Kashmiri American Council, which has hosted Pitts at several conferences because of his work to raise awareness of and act on humanitarian crises in the region.

Fai's group has been described by authorities as a covert attempt to tilt American policy against India's control of much of Kashmir.

And he has been a leading voice in the debate over the future of the mountainous border area that India and Pakistan have fought over for years. Fai supports the pro-Pakistan viewpoint that Kashmiris should vote on whether to be part of Pakistan or India. India claims the territory as its own.

Wimer said the contributions to Pitts' campaign "never influenced his position," though the congressman has been critical of India in the past.

"Mr. Pitts has always been critical of Pakistan, also - directly critical of the government," Wimer said.

At a Kashmiri American Council conference in July 2002, Fai thanked Pitts for his work on the conflict in Kashmir.

"I am grateful to you, Congressmen Pitts, and the congressional staff for sparing some time to be briefed about the possibility of a peace process in South Asia in general and in Kashmir in particular," Fai said, according to a transcript on Pitts' website.

Pitts was instrumental in setting up a bipartisan congressional forum to educate lawmakers on the conflict and traveled to the region in 2001 and 2004. Neither trip was paid for by the Kashmiri American Council.

Though the congressman has appeared at conferences staged by Fai, congressional aides said the two did not have a close relationship.

"Mr. Fai was part of this movement to make Kashmir peaceful. Mr. Pitts has been involved in trying to promote peace in Kashmir," Wimer said.

"Every once in a while, they would have a conference in Washington. Mr. Pitts would give some welcoming remarks."

At a 2003 conference, Pitts praised Fai and the group.

"I would like to extend our appreciation for the tireless work of Dr. Ghulam Nabi Fai, the Association of Humanitarian Lawyers and the Kashmiri American Council," Pitts said. "It is through their great vision and efforts that this conference has come to fruition."

In October 2004, Pitts introduced a resolution calling for a peaceful resolution to the conflict and asked the State Department to appoint a special envoy to work with the governments of India, Pakistan and Kashmir.

The $4,000 received by the Pitts campaign from Fai and Ahmad was a small part of his war chest. He raised a total of $542,444 for the 2004 race and easily won re-election over Democrat Lois Herr.

Fai has for years donated to congressional campaigns of both parties. His donations include $250 to President Barack Obama in 2008; a total of $4,500 to the National Republican Senatorial Committee in 2004 and 2008; and $250 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in 2009.

tmurse@lnpnews.com

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