We, at OpIndia, have spent a lot of time discussing and reporting on the undue influence that foreign-funded NGOs exert over the institutions of our country and the narratives that drive politics in the media. We have reported extensively on the manner in which foreign-funded NGOs are using the Judiciary in order to meddle the internal affairs of India via elements like Harsh Mander.
We have also explored the manner in which foreign-funded NGOs that receive funds from Western governments seek to meddle with the politics of our country. Furthermore, we have elaborated on the manner in which foreign-funded NGOs are collaborating with domestic organizations that have intimate relationships with internal security threats in order to undermine our country’s sovereignty. In short, we looked into the dark underbelly of ‘civil society’ and found the abyss staring right back at us.
One individual we have focused on greatly is Harsh Mander of the Centre for Equity Studies, a foreign-funded NGO. Apart from being associated with George Soros, Harsh Mander was also a member of Sonia Gandhi’s National Advisory Council which drafted the nauseatingly anti-Hindu Communal Violence Bill. He has also been very active in filing petitions in the Court and has found himself in the heart of the violent protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act.
During our investigation into Harsh Mander’s background, we discovered that he is a senior member of a little known organization called the Ara Pacis Initiative (API), an organization that was unheard of to us until this moment. He is a member of the API’s Council for Dignity, Forgiveness, Justice and Reconciliation. On further investigation, we discovered some startling facts about the nature of this organization that casts Harsh Mander in extremely dangerous light.
The Ara Pacis Initiative
The API was founded by one Maria Nicoletta Gaida, an Italian actress who is unknown to us. But it appears she is quite influential in the circles of power. We were also surprised to learn that Leymah Gbowee, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, is a founding member of the API. However, there were other much more startling details about the organization that raises many eyebrows. As it turns out, the organization appears to be an arm of the State of Italy.
The API’s website states, “The Ara Pacis Initiative was inaugurated on April 21, 2010, by the Mayor of Rome, with the High Patronage of the President of the Republic of Italy and under the auspices of the Office of the Prime Minister of Italy and the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.” It further states, “The Latin inscription on the south side of the Monument is the political and philosophical testament of Caesar Augustus, who after having “conquered” peace in the “known world” with weapons, bestows the peace on the people, entrusting them with its safekeeping and encouraging them to believe in the possibility of enduring peace.”
What really caught our attention was not the symbolic connotations of the location and name of the initiative and the invocation of the Pax Romana, of which there are many, but the language used by the organization to describe itself in the first line. API says that it was inaugurated “under the auspices of the Office of the Prime Minister of Italy and the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs”. It is the clearest indication of the fact that it is solidly backed by the Italian government and in many ways, is an arm of the Italian Government.
Our suspicion appears to be confirmed by the linked.in profile of Gaida, who also serves as the organization’s president, which describes API as a “global, not for profit organization dedicated to the human dimension of peace”. The word nongovernmental does not find a mention. Furthermore, Gaida’s profile also says, “Since 2011, she has created programs to address issues of acknowledgement, healing, justice and reconciliation in Libya and Syria, with the support of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and has advocated internationally for the rights of victims of rape and sexual violence in conflict and for the right of peaceful civil society to be heard”.
Our doubts were removed once and for all when we came across a Reuters report that described API as “an organization dedicated to conflict prevention and resolution that is backed by the Italian foreign ministry.” Thus, we can say without a doubt that the API is indeed an initiative of the State of Italy. As it turns out, it has worked to achieve Italian state objectives in the recent past.
The Libya Initiative of the API
In 2017, at an event promoted by the API and sponsored by the European Commission, fifteen government and tribal leaders from three bordering countries, Chad, Libya and Niger, at the presence of the then Italian Minister of Interior Marco Minniti, signed a joint statement of concrete cooperation to “support peace, development and security on their borders and beyond, because “there is no peace without security, there is no security without development, and there is no development without peace.” The API report on the matter was headlined “We’ll turn the Sahara from a desert of blood into a garden of peace”.
While API claimed that it was an event to promote peace in the region, Foreign Policy in a report published in January this year stated that in the said summit, efforts to control uninhibited migration from the region in conflict into Italy were discussed. An Italian official in the Italian Foreign Ministry also said that the Italian secret service was also involved in organizing the said summit.
FP further stated in the report, “In her concluding remarks at the 2017 summit, Ara Pacis’s chief, Gaida, asked for the backing of her guests to help them turn the group’s approach—based on linking development to cutting migration and treating it like organized crime and terrorism—into a model for the EU.”
It added, “When Foreign Policy approached her for comment, Gaida denied that migrant centres were ever discussed at the Ara Pacis meeting. She insisted that the summit was a good faith effort to take into consideration “the needs and aspirations of tribal leaders on the borders.” She also questioned the media’s right to publish details regarding the presence of De Caprio at the meeting: “I’m telling you that you can’t. And if you do we’ll just deny that it happened,” she said.”
Sergio De Caprio, known by the public as Capitano Ultimo, has been a legendary figure in Italy since arresting the godfather of the Sicilian mafia Totò Riina in 1993. His exploits inspired novels and a TV series. He was transferred to the Secret Service in 2016-17 as per the FP report. As per the admission on its own website, the API’s Libya Initiative was “supported and funded by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and was held under the patronage of the President of the Libyan National Congress, Mohamed Yousef el-Magariaf.”
Thus, we see that Harsh Mander is a member of an organization that is backed by the Italian Foreign Ministry and hands in gloves with the country’s secret service. Furthermore, the ‘bleeding-heart’ Indian activist who is overzealous in his attempts to restrict Indian action on illegal immigrants has no qualms in being the member of an organization that aids the Italian government in curbing migration from Libya. It does appear hypocritical to say the least. Harsh Mander is not an ordinary member of the organization. He is one of the “major international experts” who “devised and currently teach the Ara Pacis Methodology” as per its website. He is a ‘trainer’ at the organization.
The API’s website states, “From the 18th of July to the 4th of August, 2015, with funds from the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, an intergenerational, interethnic, and interreligious group of 30 Syrians convened in Viterbo, Italy, for phase one of the Syriaza project: capacity building.” Syriaza is, on the face of it, “a Syrian-to-Syrian storytelling, archiving, and dissemination project for peace-building, created by the Rome-based international organization Ara Pacis Initiative and led by Syrian poets, defenders of human dignity and human rights, community leaders, and citizen journalists.”
The second phase of the Syriaza project, funding for which is being sought, is titled, “Narrative Development and Dissemination”. The participants of the phase one of the project will “gather, archive and disseminate stories told by Syrian political detainees, the displaced, combatants, women and members of civil society – both inside Syria and across the Syrian Diaspora” in the second phase of the project.
API claims that the documentation of these narratives will “help relieve trauma, preserve history, support human rights advocacy, foster hope and build a movement for peace and justice in Syria.” “These activities will counter the ideologies of control and violence currently claiming the most media attention focused on the war in Syria, and instead spread a message of unity that demands an end to the conflict and the initiation of processes for reconciliation and peace,” it adds.
In short, through the Syriaza project, the West will continue to exercise control over the narrative of the war in Syria. One of the many partners that the API collaborated with was Radio Rozana. We will look further into this particular project because the USA until Donald Trump was elected President wanted to remove Basshar al-Assad from power and had a huge role to play in the creation of the Syrian Civil War. From the timeline of this project, it is clear that all of this happened under the Obama Presidency.
The Syriaza apparently “gained the interest of Syrian satellite radio, Radio Rozana, which agreed to host a weekly Syriaza corner, reverberating the peaceful voices of Syrians from different backgrounds.” The API claims that Radio Rozana is a ‘Syrian Satellite Radio’ but the reality is a bit different.
Radio Rozana is a radio station that was established by Syrian journalists in 2013, two years into the Syrian Civil War. It is funded exclusively by the governments of European nation-states and non-profits that receive or have received funds from the US Government. It is funded by the Canal France International (CFI), a French media support agency funded by France’s foreign ministry and the International Media Support, another organization that receives funding from the governments of Denmark, Sweden and Norway.
Radio Rozana has also received funding from the Reporters Sans Frontieres (Reporters Without Borders, RSF), an organization funded by the US government related to its foreign policy. We again reiterate that the USA has funded the Civil War in Syria. Therefore, all of it needs to be seen in that particular context. Despite the source of the funding, however, Lina Chawaf, programme editor at Radio Rozana, maintained that the radio would remain independent.
“Rozana had no “overseas agenda” or political objective” claimed Chawaf. She told Reuters in 2013, “The priority is to hear the voice of Syrians inside Syria. They are suffering and being killed every day. We want to support them.” In 2014, CFI stated, “From 5 to 15 December, fourteen young field journalists from Syria who work for Radio Rozana will be taking part in a training course focusing on producing news programmes for the radio and the Internet.” The said course was to take place at the Syrian Media Incubator, which CFI opened a few months prior in Turkey. If people are not aware, only recently, Turkey was in serious conflict with Syria which has now been settled.
Thus, we are expected to believe that Radio Rozana which is funded by Western powers that seek to remove Basshar al-Assad from power, whose field journalists were trained in Turkey, another country that Syria is in conflict with and has aired content produced by a project funded by the Italian Foreign Ministry will be ‘politically neutral’ and ‘independent’. We cannot speak for others but we do find it difficult to believe.
This is precisely what RSF asks us to do. In its January 2016 report titled ‘Independent Syrian radio goes on air from Paris’, the RSF states, “With close to 100,000 civilian casualties and over 80 news providers killed over the past two years, Syria’s need for independent, professional journalism has never been greater. Radio Rozana sets out to fill the information gap.”
“In the ongoing Syrian conflict, there is a massive need for independent, professional journalism to keep citizens and refugees informed about political, social and humanitarian developments in the country to contribute to the development of a free and democratic society in Syria,” Chawaf told RFS. “Radio Rozana seeks to meet this need by covering the daily life in the shadow of the conflict by giving a voice to civilians caught in it, and through critical analyses free from political, religious or other types of bias,” she adds.
If any of this was true, why did Radio Rozana agree to air content manufactured by a project funded by the Italian Foreign Ministry? Even so, it needs to be remembered that buzzwords such as ‘development of a free and democratic society in Syria’ hold much different meanings in the Middle East than they do in our country. The USA’s wars in the Middle East that have plunged the region into chaos were cloaked under a noble desire to establish Democracy in the region when, in reality, it was all a ruse to achieve specific geopolitical objectives.
Therefore, when someone like Chawaf whose Radio Rozana is funded by western powers espouses rhetoric that demonstrates a commitment to Democracy, it betrays political biases that favour the Western narrative. In addition to all of this, Chawaf has also claimed that the “Syrian revolution was for freedom of expression” when it was a US-backed uprising against the Assad government. Considering all of this, if Radio Rozana espouses ‘independent journalism’, then there is nothing such as propaganda. According to The Asfari Foundation, Radio Rozana is also supported by George Soros’ Open Society Foundation (OSF).
What all of this means for India
To reiterate, Harsh Mander is a senior member of the Ara Pacis Initiative, an organization backed by the Italian Foreign Ministry that works in tandem with the Italian Secret Service as well. In other words, Harsh Mander is a member of an organization that is an arm of the State of Italy’s Foreign Policy. API is a weapon in the arsenal of the Italian State and Harsh Mander is a member of it. Through the Radio Rozana, we learned that the API also collaborates with propaganda outlets funded by Western Powers, the purpose of which is to create a narrative in order to benefit the foreign policy objectives of the said power.
In India, Harsh Mander and his NGO the Karwan-e-Mohabbat have been very active in the protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act. Harsh Mander spoke on the ‘importance of solidarity’ and “how we can practice civil-disobedience in today’s India”. Karwan-e-Mohabbat urged people to join the protests at Shaheen Bagh. He has landed himself in trouble after a video where he can be seen inciting Muslim mobs against the Indian State and judiciary went viral on social media.
Harsh Mander has been engaging himself in elaborate propaganda to undermine the authority of the Indian State. He has also made several judicial interventions to portray the Indian State in poor light. It is only natural for other countries to foment civil unrest within India because it weakens our country and makes us more vulnerable to foreign exploitation. The Indian Govt certainly has reasons to investigate if Harsh Mander is a tool in the hands of foreign governments who do not wish for India to become truly strong. Because a strong country is much tougher to negotiate with and exploit than a country that is weak, it is in no one’s interest to see the rise of a strong India. All things considered, what we see with foreign-funded NGOs today is merely colonialism under the garb of ‘activism’.