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Saturday, Sep 21, 2019

Opinion| It is time to broaden the counter-terrorism battle

Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States must act on Indian requests and crack down on Khalistani groups

columns Updated: Jul 19, 2019 21:13 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Though largely dead in India now, the Khalistan movement has survived abroad among pockets of the Sikh diaspora of varying size in Canada, the United States (US) and the United Kingdom (UK)
Though largely dead in India now, the Khalistan movement has survived abroad among pockets of the Sikh diaspora of varying size in Canada, the United States (US) and the United Kingdom (UK)(File)

When does a seemingly formerly bloody, but currently peaceful, political movement turn violent? yet again? And when it does, how soon is it before it spins so out of control ?that counting bodies becomes the first, and only, line of defence for a while?

These are questions that India would wish for countries to ask themselves as they look away, while people and entities abuse their hospitality to revive the movement for Khalistan. This movement had led to the desecration of the holiest shrine for Sikhs; assassination of a prime minister; massacre of Sikhs; bombing of an international flight with more than 300 people on board; and countless people dead on both sides of the divide in the 1980s and the early 1990s.

Though largely dead in India now, the movement has survived abroad among pockets of the Sikh diaspora of varying size in Canada, the United States (US) and the United Kingdom (UK). In fact, one of the more recent instances of related violence was reported from London, where, in 2013, four men and a woman tried to kill an Indian Army general who had led Operation Blue Star to flush out militants hiding inside the Golden Temple in 1984.

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Yet, authorities in the UK, Canada and the US have remained oddly impervious to increasingly urgent Indian requests in recent years to curb these groups. They have claimed their inability to do much unless a law, or more, was violated. Indians have found that argument utterly unconvincing in the light of the many terrorism cases brought pre-emptively against individuals of a specific religion and region(s), especially in the US. “Why can’t they show the same enthusiasm for dealing with Khalistan extremists,” said an Indian security agency official, who has had several of these frustrating conversations with host country counterparts.

Indian officials have alerted US authorities multiple times in the past to the activities of these separatists, some of whom have talked of a “hit list” of Indian officials and have called for preventing certain Indian officials from visiting certain countries. They have also turned over proof of the involvement of the Pakistani spy agency, Inter-Services Intelligence. The agency officials have brazenly enough attended — apparently in a bid to humour overly meddlesome superiors in Islamabad-Rawalpindi — protests and demonstrations staged by these groups on their payrolls, outside Indian missions or US government facilities such as the White House during high-level visits.

Let’s get this straight. They are not the Greenpeace or the White Hats of Syria. These groups are attempting to resuscitate a violent movement that left a trail of dead and destruction at its peak. Can you imagine, for argument’s sake, the now vanquished Islamic State’s Caliphate being allowed to find a new lease of life in the US or Canada or the UK 20 years hence, in the hands of supporters who appeared peaceful and legally compliant at the time?

One of these groups was banned recently by the Indian government, with an open and unsaid call to the like-minded countries that have suffered the consequences of violent political movements — such as the Irish Republican Army — and terrorism. Their list is long, and their silence so far has been ominously louder. When asked for a response, and to the fact that the banned group, Sikhs for Justice, is based out of the US and its top leaders are American citizens, the state department said: “We don’t have any comment for you on this issue at this time.”

The US and the UK — and to a growing extent, Canada — have been close and trusted partners of India on counter-terrorism. But that convergence in thinking has been confined, thus far, to dealing with terrorism arising from a radicalised section of the Muslim world. It is time now to broaden that engagement to encompass other and similar threats, big and small. Terrorism and terrorists are not known to respect or love their hosts and sponsors. Ask Pakistan, which found out the hard way as the chief sponsor of terrorism and its worst victim.

First Published: Jul 19, 2019 21:03 IST