A shadowy hand
Looking to open another front against Indian interests, Pakistan’s ISI has made significance attempts at reviving the Khalistan movement in western countries
Pakistan's notorious intelligence agency ISI, known for its covert and most violent operations starting from religious indoctrination, cross border terrorism, fomenting communal trouble in neighbouring countries, printing counterfeit notes and circulation of fake currency, has recently come to adverse light for trying to fuel Sikh separatist movement by supporting Khalistani elements, particularly in western countries.
Very recently, in a report generated by MacDonald Laurier Institute, it was revealed that Pakistan has now embarked on a project to revive the Khalistani movement and for it, it's using Canada and the US to find some clientele as Sikhs in India are not all interested in these activities. This mood was already evident in the 80s and 90s when the Sikhs living in the State of Punjab, outrightly shunned violence, helping to bring back normalcy and peace.
This perception is fully endorsed by Terry Milewski, who is believed to have drafted this report of MacDonald Laurier Institute. India also acted swiftly by banning the 'Sikhs for Justice', based in the US, which had planned a referendum on Khalistan on November 7, 2019. Significantly, in the foreword of the report written by former Canadian Minister, Ujjal Dosanjh and Shuvaloy Majumdar, they have candidly said that any Pakistan (ISI) support for Khalistani movement may act as oxygen to the otherwise dormant movement. It further says that this report should be critical reading for any who wish to understand Pakistan's influence in guiding the Khalistani proposition, it's a perversion of the Sikh faith and it is an ongoing campaign of extremism and terrorism in two of the world's important democracies.
In this context, it's imperative to state that Canada under Justin Trudeau has been soft towards Khalistani terrorists during 2015-2019, but now it looks that the Government is being alert to threats and constant pressure by the Indian Government about the possible exploitation of a good number of Canadian Sikhs directing them for a Khalistani cause. In fact, a public report on the terrorism threat to Canada, released in 2018, originally cited Khalistani ideologies and movements among the top five national security issues for the country but this was later replaced in a revised version of the report on extremists who support violent means to
establish a separate independent state within India. Further, the proposition of an independent Khalistan was a backward idea from a backward time. It is a proposal without economic or any diplomatic logic. The idea on part of the ISI was (is) to keep the movement alive even by using means of bigotry!
It is well known in the public domain that the ISI has long been evincing extraordinary interest keeping the Khalistan project warm, investing millions of dollars planning stealth linked operations cultivating Sikh radicals in the west.
Soon after the humiliating defeat at the hands of India in the 1965 war, ISI crafted a move of cultivating the Sikh separatists after targeting Charanjit Singh Pancha who was in self-exile in London. Subsequently, in 1970, Jagjit Singh Chohan, who was an ex-minister in the State of Punjab, was befriended by the ISI when he too reached London. Later, Chohan moved to the US where Henry Kissinger met him amid much hype and fanfare and by design, encouraged Chohan to be seen in his company which was vigorously aired on TV with high-level optics. Significantly, post-1971, after Pakistan's yet another crushing defeat inflicted by India, and creation of Bangladesh, CIA-ISI cooperation for the proliferation of Sikh separatist movement caught momentum.
By this time, ISI had succeeded in the creation of Khalistan Commando Force and propping up Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale. In a meticulously planned manner, ISI embarked upon training Sikh militants and opened floodgates for the ultras for indoctrination, armed training in Karachi, Lahore etc. Safe houses to accommodate sprang up and the border areas became hot with military-linked training activities. A trend of ISI sponsored hijackings too were noticed in the '80s of the last century.
In 1984, we saw the killing of Indira Gandhi with an ISI hand which was already fuelling the violent movement leading to Operation BlueStar. In the same year, the German intelligence service, the BND disclosed that a German arms manufacturing company had come to notice for supply of arms to the Khalistanis. Simultaneously, pro-separatist activities saw a spurt in countries like the US and Canada. To counter that undercover intelligence officials got posted in these countries containing the terror menace to a large extent through preventive information emanating mainly from places like Vancouver.
Today, Indian intelligence and the MEA seem to be alert in foiling any move that may later cause threats. Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, who is the head of 'Sikhs for Justice' and a suspected puppet of the ISI has recently stated his complete support to China in case of a war with India. He is the prime mover for the referendum for Khalistan. He even pledged his support to Pakistan in the event of a war with India. Also, he assured Prime Minister Imran Khan for complete support by Khalistan elements based in Pakistan. Pannun's open challenges to India prompted the Indian authorities (MHA) to attach properties belonging to
eight of his other activists under Section 51 A of the 'Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act'.
In the national security interests, this was a good move and will act as a deterrent too. Any complacency might prove costly as the ISI is believed to have stepped up its machinations to woo the Khalistani forces too, in addition to the involvement in subversive activities in Kashmir. It's perhaps relevant to point out that in 2016, ISI watcher and an established authority on ISI, Dr Hein Kiessling, had predicted: "Khalistan Chapter is not yet closed".
The writer is a retired IPS officer, a security analyst and a former National Security Advisor to the Prime Minister of Mauritius. Views expressed are personal