The Khalistan factor The Excelsior 09 May 2024 Maj Gen Harsha Kakar

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The Khalistan factor

The Khalistan factor The Excelsior 09 May 2024

India-Canadian ties have hit rock bottom since Justin Trudeau, the Canadian PM, began giving additional space to Khalistan supporters. Trudeau’s two visits to India, in Feb 2018 and the G 20 summit last year, ended up as nothing more than photo-ops and a waste of government funds. He was mocked by his own media and political opponents for misusing Canadian funds while achieving nothing. An added embarrassment was breakdown of his aircraft forcing him to remain in India for an additional 24 hours, after the G20 summit.

Post the Modi-Trudeau bilateral, on the sidelines of the G20 summit, the Indian readout mentioned PM Modi expressing ‘strong concerns about extremist elements in Canada.’ The statement read, ‘They are promoting secessionism and inciting violence against Indian diplomats, damaging diplomatic premises, and threatening the Indian community in Canada and their places of worship.’

The Canadian communique stated that Trudeau raised ‘foreign interference in Canadian elections.’ It added, ‘Canada will always defend freedom of expression, freedom of conscience, and freedom of peaceful protest and it is extremely important to us.’

The message from India to Canada was very clear. You back Khalistan and anti-India elements, India wants nothing to do with you. The hint was not taken.

On return and facing criticism for his failed visit, Trudeau switched track and accused India, of being behind the killing of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a Khalistani activist, murdered in Canada last year. No proof of Indian involvement was provided. India debunked his claims. Latest inputs from Canada mention that four individuals have been arrested for Nijjar’s killing and thus far investigating agencies are uncertain of foreign links.

The relationship took a further downward slide when the MEA demanded equality in diplomatic staff forcing Canada to withdraw 41 diplomats. Things worsened with attacks on Indian consulates and threats to its diplomats. Ongoing Free Trade Agreement discussions came to a standstill.

Trudeau has been hinting that his political survival is more important than ties with India. His government is banking on support from the Jagmeet Singh led New Democratic Party (NDP), largely comprising of Canadian Sikhs. Canada has approximately 8 lakh Sikhs, many of whom back the NDP. His ignoring ties with India for his own survival was evident when he joined a Sikh rally, marking Khalsa day, in Toronto recently, alongside Conservative Party leader Pierre Poilievre. 

Participants at the rally raised calls for Khalistan while displaying posters of the Indian PM, defence and foreign affairs ministers terming them ‘Nijjar’s killers.’ In his address, Trudeau vowed to protect the rights and freedom of Sikhs. He mentioned, ‘We will always be there to protect your rights and your freedoms, and we will always defend your community against hatred and discrimination.’

He also announced that the Canadian government has negotiated with India for increasing frequency of flights between the countries, including to Amritsar. If the relationship moves further south, it is unlikely that India would proceed with the agreement. Trudeau had also commented adversely during the farmers’ agitation stating that Canadians are concerned about their relatives in India, invoking a sharp response terming it interference in India’s internal matters.  

New Delhi disapproved of the posters and slogans raised at the Khalsa day rally as also the presence of the top Canadian leadership. The MEA summoned the Canadian Deputy High Commissioner and lodged a protest. The Indian statement read, ‘Their continued expressions not only impact India-Canada relations but also encourages a climate of violence and criminality in Canada to the detriment of its own citizens.’

Commenting on the rally, Pannun, the spokesperson of the SFJ (Sikhs for Justice) movement, mentioned, ‘Trudeau’s address is reassuring that pro-Khalistan Sikhs’ right to campaign for liberation for Punjab from Indian occupation was protected under Canadian Charter of Rights and the liberal government will always stand with Canadian Sikhs.’ Trudeau is conveying that for ensuring his political survival his government will support calls for Khalistan.

The space being provided by Canada and the US to the Khalistan movement cannot be in isolation and solely for Trudeau’s survival but with an ulterior intention. Providing credence to this logic is the fact that Indian intelligence agencies had identified individuals involved in the attack on its consulate in San Francisco in March 2023. It sent their details to the US. However, the US government claims its agencies are ‘still investigating.’

Such is the confidence of members of the Khalistan movement of protection from Canadian authorities that they publicly warn non-Sikh Indo-Canadians to return to India failing which they could be attacked. As expected, Ottawa refuses to detain those threatening, considering it freedom of speech. Declared terrorists by India roam free as also are protected by Canada and the US.

Both Canada and the US refuse to act on calls for targeting Indian air carriers, trains and thermal plants by Pannun. Had such threats emanated on US assets from Indian soil there would have been demands for extradition.

On its part, the Indian government is attaching properties of those supporting the Khalistan movement, including Pannun, as also those involved in attacks on its consulates. On this neither the US nor Canada can object, as these individuals have been declared terrorists by the Indian government.  

The Indian NIA (National Intelligence Agency) spokesperson mentioned, ‘The NIA has adopted this strategy (confiscating property) to squeeze financial resources of terrorist outfits as well as their operatives and associates.’ Simultaneously India is cancelling Khalistan activists Overseas Citizenship Card, thereby denying them entry into the country. 

The US has placed the Pannun attempted murder case on the back burner while enhancing ties with India. It has possibly insisted that India make no such attempt in the future. Trudeau has failed to learn from the US or maybe improved ties with India is a redline laid down by the NDF. Every action being undertaken by him is aimed at self-preservation while degrading Indo-Canada ties.   

The way the Khalistan movement is gaining ground, Canada could well become its epicenter, backed by the US. In India, there is almost zero traction for Khalistan. However, things could change in case New Delhi has a weak power structure. Hence, there is a desire to project the current leadership in poor light, hoping this strategy works.   

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