India, the West, and Khalistan
Ambassador Prabhat P Shukla
The current contretemps between India and Canada needs to be understood against a longer-term stance of the latter country on the issue of sanctuary and license to Khalistani terrorists, going back to the early 1980’s, and persisting till today. Of course, Canada has not been acting alone.
The central argument here is that, since the early 1980’s, the western countries have been using the Khalistan movement as an instrument of pressure on India; the aim is to make the Government in Delhi conform to their US-led foreign policy objective.
By way of elaboration, it is not a lever to be used for any and all purposes, but only when the west confronts a high-priority issue. In the 1980’s it was the Afghan war against the USSR, today it is the Ukraine war against Russia. In both cases, India had followed its own policy, even though it had its reservations about the actions of Moscow, but was unwilling to take a strident, public stand, or vote against Moscow at the UN.
It surely cannot be a coincidence that the Khalistan movement petered out in the early 1990’s, after the west had achieved its aim in Afghanistan; nor that the current round of hostility began in 2022, after the Russian attack on Ukraine.
At both times, Canada was assigned the role of cat’s paw. The reason is that it has a large Sikh community, which enjoys the indulgence of the Canadian government and agencies, all under the bogus claim of a commitment to freedom of expression. Not coincidentally, in both periods, Canada was, and is, under a Liberal government, which maintains a façade of championing human rights and democratic freedoms, including freedom of expression. Canada also has limited stakes in good relations with India, as opposed to other Anglosphere countries.
Now the details.
After the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, the US led a world-wide campaign to defeat the Soviet Union, a policy that acquired teeth under the Reagan administration, which came to power in January 1981. India had just elected [a year prior] Indira Gandhi as Prime Minister, and she had her well-advertised reservations about the Soviet action, but was resisting western calls to be more overt in her disapproval of the Soviets.
This policy continued even after her assassination under her son and successor, Rajiv Gandhi. And it was on his tenure as Prime Minister that the terrorist act of bombing two Air India flights – from Montreal to Delhi via London and Vancouver to Tokyo to link up with an Air India flight to Bangkok – took place in June 1985.
Indian intelligence had alerted the Canadians that there was a plot to plant bombs on Air India flights. So had local citizens, who had provided first-hand information that some members of the Sikh community were preparing terrorist acts. Their own wiretaps also confirmed this information. As a result, Ait India flights were placed under special procedures for screening passengers and luggage.
On 22/23 June 1985 [time difference between Canada and India], however, as the luggage of one “M Singh” was being loaded, it turned out that the X-ray machine had broken down. Instead of the regular procedure, officials were using hand-held detectors, which were obviously not as reliable. Nonetheless, even these detectors beeped at the suitcase [the passenger himself was not booked to fly], but the security officials allowed it to be loaded all the same.
This was the bomb that blew up some 200 miles off the Irish coast, killing all 329 passengers and crew on board.
One of the principal accused, Inderjit Singh Reyat, was initially let off with a fine, and he then left Canada, and settled in the UK. It was only in February 1988 that the Canadians finally asked for him to be extradited back to Canada to face trial; the British also took their time, and it was only in December 1989 that he was finally flown back to Canada.
By then, of course, the Afghan war had been won by the west. And Reyat was expendable.
Later on, in 2000, the Globe and Mail published an interview with an anonymous official of the CSIS [Canadian Security Intelligence Service], who admitted that he destroyed evidence providing hours of audio-tapes of talks with confidential sources on the bombings – in defiance of orders – so as not to hand them over to the RCMP [Royal Canadian Mounted Police]. Those who wish to read the newspaper article will find it here.
Two other men were charged – Ajaib Singh Bagri and Ripudaman Singh Malik – and were arrested in 2000, but were acquitted at trial. Two crucial witnesses, one of whom Tara Singh Hayer who had provided an affidavit to the RCMP, was killed, in Surrey, British Columbia in 1998; the other, Tarsem Singh Purewal, was killed in London in 1995.
The Mounties used to claim to “always get their man”, but clearly those days are long gone.
Shoddy, dilatory investigation and action ensured that the plotters and masterminds of the bombing succeeded in their plans, and then got away scot free.
Following a commission of inquiry into the entire affair, which published its report in 2010 – it was the worst air disaster in Canadian history – the then Prime Minister Stephen Harper, said that he “acknowledge[d] the catastrophic failures of intelligence, policing and air security that led to the bombing, and the prosecutorial lapses that followed”.
The timing of the current round of Khalistani activity again is revealing: the Russian attack on Ukraine was launched in February 2022: the Khalistan movement, which had been sputtering until then, came alive again shortly after, once it became evident that India was not joining in the sanctions against, or public condemnation of, Russia. The fact that India stepped up its import of Russian oil, much of which was refined and re-exported to Europe, meant a dilution of the sanctions driven by the US, and this has been a constant source of friction with India.
The Indian decision not to invite Ukrainian President Zelensky to the G20 Summit – as distinct from the practice established at the previous Summit in Indonesia – would have further rankled.
The early sign was the return to India in August 2022 of Amritpal Singh Sandhu, who had lived in Dubai and had residency rights in - where else? – Canada, and a revival of the demand for Khalistan. He also proclaimed that Home Minister Amit Shah would suffer the same fate as Indira Gandhi.
For good measure, he also declared that Jesus could not save himself, so it was unlikely that he could save anyone else. This was presumably a response to the growing number of Christians in Punjab, who duly accused him of hate speech.
His violent and separatist activities involved attacks on non-conforming Gurudwaras [as he saw them] and police stations, and he was finally arrested in April 2023, after having been on the run for several weeks.
Meanwhile, in the west, referendums on Khalistan saw a mushroom growth between September and December 2022; Canada [of course], Italy, Australia, Switzerland, among other countries saw “non-binding” referendums, most of which were flops. Only in Canada, about 100,000 persons turned up to vote.
Dismissing Indian objections on grounds of freedom of expression, these referendums went ahead. But seeing the limited response to the move, the western governments moved the agitation to a higher gear. This took the form of attacks on Hindu Temples and Indian Diplomatic and Consular Missions. From late 2022 and on to 2023, there attacks on Temples and Indian Embassies and High Commissions; in London, the Indian flag was desecrated.
The Government of India still did not seem to get the sinister message the west was sending, for it continued with its policies on the Ukraine war, though there has been a noticeable slowdown in high-level exchanges between India and Russia. Presumably, the western leaders decided more pressure was needed on India.
A new low was reached when, in June 2023, the Khalistanis organised a parade showing a tableau of Indira Gandhi being assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards. Calls were given to attack Indian diplomats, and Hindus living in Canada, with the US-based organisation “Sikhs for Justice” taking the lead.
All this was passed off as freedom of expression.
It is time for the Hindus to organise, and use their political and financial influence to defend their interests; for a start, they could stop their reflexive vote for the traditional left-wing parties in the Anglosphere.
The killing of Hardeep Singh Nijjar shortly thereafter, was almost certainly the result of gang warfare. Nijjar had been feuding with Ripudaman Singh Malik, one of the accused in the Air India bombing, who was acquitted for lack of evidence. Malik had given clear indications of a change of heart over the years: he had written a letter to Prime Minister Modi in January 2022, praising him for his pro-Sikh actions, and warning him that some anti-India Sikhs were running a campaign against him [details available here].
The anti-India Sikhs, and their backers in Canada, would certainly have every incentive to remove Malik from the scene; not only was he involved in a feud with Nijjar and his supporters, he was also a respected elder in the community with impeccable credentials as a fighter for Sikh rights. He was killed in July 2022, and a reprisal against Nijjar should not occasion any surprise.
There is now, in fact, some confirmation for this view, and it comes from the Canadians themselves. A recent article in the Canadian paper, Vancouver Sun, reports on an interview with Nijjar’s son, who informs that the CSIS had been meeting Nijjar regularly for over a year, and more frequently since February this year. The important revelation in this article is that the Canadian authorities had alerted Nijjar of a threat to his life after the murder of Ripudaman Singh Malik in July 2022.
As of this writing, there is little further news on the killing of Malik after the arrest of two suspects named Fox and Lopez; there is reportedly a trial ongoing, and the verdict should be out in due course of time. That has taken over a year, but the Canadians seem to have cracked the Nijjar killing with noteworthy alacrity.
Another Khalistani terrorist has been killed in Winnipeg recently, Sukhdool Singh Gill; he too was a fugitive from Indian justice, who travelled to Canada on a fake passport. It is intriguing how easily such unsavoury characters obtain visas and residency rights in Canada. Upstanding citizens of India do not have it so easy.
Hopefully, the authorities there will begin to see the dangers of meddling in the politics of terrorism in foreign countries.
Even the way the Canadians have handled the situation suggests pressure tactics. Asking for the withdrawal of an undesirable diplomat is fairly routine in diplomatic practice. It is usually done discreetly, and the partner country expels a diplomat of equivalent role and rank. When it is done in a blaze of publicity, the purpose is to apply pressure.
The Canadians, instead of reining in the extremist and illegal activities – as defined in the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations – have instead chosen to launch a public attack on India. The Canadian Foreign Minister herself declared some of the activities of the Khalistanis “unacceptable”. This may be seen here.
But there was no follow-up action.
The final point: we need to dispose of the argument, much beloved of the tyro Prime Minister of Canada, that this is all freedom of expression, a line that the western corporate media are also parroting. Three counter-examples will suffice to blow away this puerile argument.
First, the Khalistanis took out a float this June [mentioned above] showing the assassination of Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards. Glorifying murder surely cannot be legitimised under the plea of free expression. One of his own Party MP’s, Chandra Arya, has criticised the Government’s approach to Khalistani terror. Details here.
Second, it is instructive to see how Trudeau reacted to his own citizens’ protest. Truckers from both the US and Canada had riven from British Columbia to the capital, Ottawa in January 2022 to protest against compulsory vaccination against Covid-19 – an article of faith for the woke globalists, like Trudeau. In response, he invoked an emergency, and froze the bank account of the truckers. No freedom of expression for them.
He had lectured the Indian Government over the farmers’ protest in India, and had averred, “Let me remind you, Canada will always be there to defend the rights of peaceful protesters”. Evidently, apart from his other failings, he also has a short memory, for only a year separated this statement in support of Indian farmers, and crushing his own truckers, who were also protesting peacefully.
And third, there is the case of a Baluch independence activist, Karima Baluch. She had fled from Pakistan, fearing for her life in the continuing brutal reprisals of the Pakistani authorities against the Baluch. She was living in Canada since 2015, and was killed in December 2020; her body was found in the Toronto waterfront. The local police promptly declared that there no suspicious circumstances, but the former Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship from the Conservative government contradicted this and said that the death was deeply suspicious.
The Canadian government took no further action.
The picture that emerges from this recounting is that the western powers have been using the Khalistan issue over the last forty years to pressure India on major foreign policy issues. Canada has been fronting for this move, out of an ill-judged sense of its power, and a similarly ill-judged desire to play vote-bank politics at home.
The current situation has been created by the growing sense in the west that several of their key allies and strategic partners do not share the Anglo-Saxon approach to the war in Ukraine. In the case of Canada, it has been exacerbated by an immature, woke leader, who fondly imagined that he would be given cover precisely because of his woke politics.
One hopes that he is wising up, and will find a way out from this needless spat of his own making. The Government of India owes him no favours.
25 September 2023,