Think tank report calls for more attention on Sikh separatists in US
A leading American think tank is calling for authorities to pay more and urgent attention to US-based individuals and entities campaigning for Khalistan, saying they are backed by the same elements as those that have propped up people espousing the separatist cause of a free Kashmir, namely Pakistan.
“The US government cannot afford to allow separatist movements from India, including those with ties to militant and terrorist groups, to grow unchecked among its otherwise law-abiding Sikh community,” the Hudson Institute, the think-tank, said in a report published on Tuesday, titled, “Pakistan’s Destabilization Playbook: Khalistani Activism in the US”.
It’s been jointly authored by leading experts on South Asia Husain Haqqani, Christine Fair, Aparna Pande, Sam Westrop, Seth Oldmixon and Michael Rubin.
“Its experience with Islamist extremist groups must serve as a template for dealing with Khalistan extremists, and so recruitment or fundraising for militancy or ‘martyrdom’ must not be allowed on US soil, even if the actual acts of violence are to take place far away, in India. US authorities must not let ostensibly peaceful pro-Khalistan activism become the precursor of a new wave of violence in India’s Punjab state.”
The report calls for the US to investigate the “likelihood of unlawful foreign funding of the Khalistan movement” without further delay. And it warned against repeating the US handling of the case of the Kashmir American Council (KAC).
In 2011, the FBI said KAC and its founder Syed Ghulam Nabi Fai had run a decades-long scheme to conceal the transfer of at least $3.5 million from the government of Pakistan - including the ISI - to fund his lobbying efforts in America related to Kashmir. He was jailed for conspiracy and tax-evasion.
Fai has resumed his activities since his release, and has been seen multiple times at demonstrations and protests called by the Sikhs for Justice, which was banned by India in 2019; its founder-leader Gurpatwant Singh Pannun was declared a terrorist by India in 2020.
India has asked the United States to act against them as well but has felt frustrated by the lack of any response.
There may be some reason for hope and optimism now. Lisa Monaco, the current deputy attorney general and No.2 in the department of justice (DoJ), had led a team that had prosecuted Fai in 2011 as assistant attorney general. She is closely familiar thus with Pakistan’s secret funding of groups such as KAC in the US.
Like Fai and his outfit, which has since gone defunct and has been replaced by the World Kashmiri Awareness Forum, Pannun and his proscribed organisation are tied to Pakistan, the report has said citing publicly available material and published accounts in newspapers.
In fact, the report noted, the SFJ leadership had made no attempt to conceal its links to Pakistan: the outfit opened a “permanent office of SFJ” in Lahore, Pakistan in 2018; in 2019, Pannun organised a truck rally in Houston against Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Howdy Modi event, joining Pakistan-backed Kashmir separatists - “call by Pro Khalistan Sikhs & Organizations Supporting People of Kashmir”.
Evidence of Pakistan’s backing to separatist Khalistani groups in the US goes back to 2006 when a New York court, the report recounts, convicted a Pakistan national of providing money and financial services to the Khalistan Commando Force, which was described by US authorities as “a terrorist organisation responsible for thousands of deaths in India since its founding in 1986”.
The report suggests the US should designate all groups responsible for terrorist attacks in India; designate individuals determined to have been connected to terrorist outfits; use terror financing laws and regulation against US-based groups espousing Kashmir and Khalistan separatism, and investigate them for violating US laws on foreign funding; and use legal tools to monitor suspected Kashmiri and Khalistan terrorism sympathisers and advocates.