Pakistan is Again Playing the Devil’s Advocate in Khalistan Militancy

Pakistan, India’s arch enemy is playing a lynchpin role in the revival of the Sikh militancy in Punjab. Pakistan’s support is in line with its long-term strategy of keeping India on the boil by fomenting terror in Kashmir, Punjab, social unrest and creating economic turmoil. Hence, there is nothing new in it and the reasons are more than obvious. Pakistan has used terrorists as strategic assets against India for over four decades now. B. Raman, the veteran spy of India, informs in his book, “The Kaoboys of R&AW”, that Richard Nixon’s administration along with the Yahya Khan’s government of Pakistan began a covert action plan in 1971 to foment separatist movement in Punjab. The detailed analysis of Pakistan’s support of the Khalistan movement in the 1970s and 1980s falls beyond the scope of this article as the focus of this article is on the more recent attempts to revive terrorism in Punjab.

According to informed sources of Indian intelligence, the ISI officers are acting as main handlers and organizers of Sikh separatist activities in Canada, Europe, US, UK and Malaysia. Allegedly, ISI is making serious attempts to revitalize Khalistan movement by providing weapons, financial support, moral backing and propaganda work, in the mainland Punjab and abroad, both. As per the Indian sleuths, Lt. Colonel Shahid Mahmood Malhi, better known as “Chahdury Sahab” in the Pakistani army is the mastermind of referendum 2020. The Indian agencies are said to have recovered documents pertaining to referendum 2020 from his computer. Sources inform that he headed the Lahore detachment of ISI and might have played a key role in target killings of Hindu leaders in Punjab, terrorist attack in Gurdaspur’s Dinanagar town (July 2015) and fidayeen (suicide) attack on Pathankot air base (Jan 2016) (both in Punjab, India).

Further, Indian intelligence agencies are of the view that ISI is trying to link-up Punjab terrorists with the terrorist organizations operating in Kashmir. Nothing concrete has yet come out regarding the said development but some activities are strong enough to strengthen the suspicions. For example, a large number of Kashmiri students are studying in Punjab. Zakir Musa, the commander of Ansar Ghazwat-ul Hind, an Al-Qaida affiliated Kashmiri terrorist organization was studying in Punjab, and he has made several trips to Punjab in the recent past.

Besides, Pakistan has been smuggling drugs into Punjab through border districts of Firozpur, Pathankot, Tarantaran and Gurdaspur in huge quantities, as a part of its hybrid warfare against India which also involves pumping counterfeit currency and weapons in Punjab. A recent study by the government suggests that 8,60,000 young men (15-35) in Punjab are drug addicts. 53% of them prefer heroin. The drugs render young minds vulnerable and yearning for a purpose in life. Such minds can be easily fed with extremist religious propaganda under the illusion of giving a purpose to their meaningless and shattered lives. For such weak minds fed on extremist religious propaganda, heroism comes in handy with violent methods to achieve the desired targets making a perfect combination for revving up terrorism in Punjab.

While researching on the issue, this author came across some young activists engaged in deradicalizing young minds, told this author that ISI will also target the diverse gangster groups/organized crime syndicates in Punjab. Some of these groups are said to have expressed sympathies for Khalistan movement on their Facebook pages, purportedly to acquire social legitimacy and weapons from handlers based in Pakistan. Until now, not much development has taken yet on this front. However, if ISI is able to make inroads into the crime syndicates, things can be extremely difficult for Indian counter-terrorism agencies.

It is easy to read into the deeper geopolitical motives behind some of the open activities of Pakistan to gain the goodwill of Sikhs. For example, many ISI generals including the former ISI chief Hamid Gul have openly supported Khalistan movement. Several Khalistani extremists are sheltered in Pakistan. Gopal Singh Chawla, an India-hating Sikh extremist is often seen sharing the dais with Hafiz Saed, Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorist with a bounty of USD 10 million on him, and the mastermind of 26/11 Mumbai attacks. Recently, Pakistan has been over-generous to please its Sikh minority, in an overall set-up that is notorious for its treatment of other minorities like Christians and Hindus. Pakistan opened the Kartarpur religious corridor between Indian and Pakistani Punjab, the demand which it has been refusing so far. Prior to this, Pakistan also released stamps in the memory of Sikhs killed by militants in Kashmir and exempted Sikhs from the compulsion of wearing helmets while driving. Apart from this, it appears that Pakistan is also facilitating the support of its friends like Turkey for SJF. Recently, Captain Amarinder Singh’s (Punjab’s Chief Minister) visit to Turkey had to be cut short, after SFJ filed a complaint in Turkey alleging that Mr Singh’s government in Punjab was detaining and torturing the peaceful activists of SFJ in Punjab.

In the mainland Punjab, there does not appear much sentiment for the Khalistan movement. However, the situation can be alarming, if not tackled properly. The authorities in Punjab perceive that, unlike in the last decade, there is no dearth of foot soldiers in Punjab for the movement. With the elections approaching soon in India, the issue of Sikh identity and grievances will be politically sensitive. Indian government appears to be sensitive to the potential of the threat. Hansraj Gangaram Ahir,(Minister of State for Home) clearly stated in the parliament, “Inputs indicate that ISI operatives are making efforts towards moral/financial support to pro-Khalistan elements for anti-India activities as well as to revive militancy in Punjab.” The central government has already alerted the states of the potential revival of Sikh militancy. Besides, India is also being sympathetic to Sikh religious demands and grievances. It was evident recently, when India somewhat relaxed on its policy of no dialogue with Pakistan without the latter’s concrete action on terror, by consenting to open Kartarpur corridor.

However, India is acting in a cautious manner. It did not send its foreign minister for the inaugural ceremony of the Karpatrpur corridor, but only two of its state ministers only, making it clear that the gesture was purely out of respect for Sikh religious concerns and does not indicate a shift from its stated position of terror and talks not going together. In another gesture to address Sikh grievances, the Supreme Court awarded life sentences to the convicts of the anti-Sikh riots of 1984 that led to the killing of 8000 Sikhs and is still a highly sensitive issue for Sikhs. In future, India needs to act in a holistic manner by countering the anti-India propaganda war by Sikh extremists and Pakistan and take sufficient measures to ensure the faith of Sikhs in India’s democracy. In addition, India also needs to make sure that there is not undue torture of the sympathetic Sikh youth and other human rights violations in its approach.


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