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Saturday, April 14, 2012

Mercy Corps Program Director deported to USA

All foreign NGOs put under security scanner in J&K on MHA’s notice

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

SRINAGAR, Apr 11: Kashmir Program Director of the American non-profit organisation, Mercy Corps, Usman Rahim, has been deported to USA after working on different projects in coordination with the state and the central governments for nearly eight years. With this dramatic development, authorities have put all the foreign NGOs under a high security scanner.

According to authoritative sources, customs and immigration authorities on Indira Gandhi International Airport stopped 42-year-old Usman Rahim who was returning to New Delhi in a flight from Dubai on March 9th. With an entry on his American Passport, Mr Usman was sent back to USA via Dubai. If these highly placed official sources are to be believed, the immigration authorities recorded on Mr Usman’s passport that his activities in India had been “not consistent with the visa granted to him” from time to time.

Usman’s wife, Nafeesa, who is a British national, has been left alone in Srinagar. Sources said that nobody from the government asked her either to leave the country or stay back in Srinagar. Efforts to contact her for comments failed.

A senior Police official of the rank of IGP confirmed to Early Times that Mr Usman has been “sent back” from IGI Airport on March 9th. “That has been done by the Government of India and they have not shared any details or reasons of his deportation with us”, said the Police official. He believed that authorities in the Central government would not have sent Usman Rahim back until there were compelling reasons or adverse information about his activities. He maintained that the American national had never figured in any negative list of J&K Government while working for a Portland-based NGO in the Valley in the last nearly eight years.

Yet another official, associated with security, revealed that immediately after Usman Rahim’s deportation, all the foreign NGOs operating in J&K, including the foreign nationals staying in the state for more than three years, had been put under surveillance on the notice of union Ministry of Home Affairs. He said that reports were being verified which suggested that Usman was deported after a Central intelligence agency observed that a number of foreigners, particularly Americans, working with different NGOs in Pakistan and Afghanistan, had visited Kashmir and stayed with Usman.

This is for the first time that a foreign NGO operator has been sent back and prevented physically from proceeding to Kashmir. More significant has been complete silence on the deportation of the American national by both, Government of India as well as the American Embassy in New Delhi. Interestingly, Mr Usman has been viewed as “persona non grata” after eight years of his continuous working in Kashmir. His projects in agriculture, environment and employment sector have been promoted by the state and the central governments over the years. It was Usman Rahim who got American singer Terra Noami to Srinagar two years back and organized a mega concert for her with facilitation of the state government at SKICC. She also picturized a couple of songs on global warming and ecology at Gulmarg and other places.

Usman had first appeared in Srinagar during the post-earthquake relief operations in 2005. In the last seven years, his NGO Mercy Corps worked extensively in rural areas, including border areas. According to well-placed official sources, he had remained continuously in touch with the state as well as the Central governments and had established an extensive network of unemployed youth. He worked prominently to promote Omar Abdullah government’s flagship employment programme, SKEWPY, in coordination with Entrepreneurship Development Institute (EDI).

According to these sources, Usman had “over a hundred times” met Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, a number of his Cabinet Ministers, including Abdul Rahim Rather, Nasir Aslam Wani and Ghulam Hassan Mir, Governor N N Vohra, a number of officials of the union Ministry of Home Affairs, including two Home Secretaries and Joint Secretary (J&K) Mr K Skandan. Unconfirmed reports insisted that he had also met union Home Minister P Chidambaram. In Srinagar, he was known for his intimate liaison with senior Government officials including top Police officials, civil society groups and mediapersons.

Prior to his joining Mercy Corps and operating developmental programmes in Kashmir, Usman had remained closely associated in USA with the JKLF Chairman Mohammad Yasin Malik, who reportedly got him into contact with businessman Mansoor Ijaz. It was Usman who introduced Malik in different wings of UN as also several Universities and thinktanks in USA over a decade ago. However, during his staying in Valley, he had apparently distanced himself from Malik and other separatist leaders.

Even as the grapevine of Usman’s figuring as a “CIA agent” has been thickening in Srinagar with every passing day, authorities as well as Mercy Corps have remained tightlipped over his deportation.


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