The farmers’ agitation in India drew support from the global Khalistan movement. In London, there were thousands of protestors outside the Indian High Commission waving Khalistan flags. Amongst the participants were members of the Sikh Federation, UK, known to be associated with the Khalistan movement. Also present in the protest was Paramjeet Singh Pamma, a man wanted in India for his connection to the banned terror group, Sikhs For Justice (SFJ), which is believed to be funded by Pakistan’s ISI. Attempts in the UK parliament to back the protest were turned down by Boris Johnson, describing it as India’s internal matter.
The US-headquartered SFJ threatened to shut down Indian consulates in Europe and North America through rallies in support of the ongoing agitation. Pakistan also waded into the farmer’s protest. Their interior minister, Fawad Choudhary, tweeted, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We must speak up against injustice done to Punjabi farmers. Modi policies are a threat to the whole region.” Pakistan has openly been attempting to rekindle the Khalistan movement.
Simultaneously, Delhi Police arrested five individuals who were planning a high-profile assassination in the city. The group consisted of two Khalistan supporters and three Hizbul Mujahideen members. Indian intelligence agencies, in coordination with their counterparts in the UAE, detained ISI henchman, Sukhmeet Pal Singh in Dubai. He had masterminded several killings this year, including that of Shaurya Chakra awardee Balwinder Singh Sandhu. His arrest will be a major setback for Pakistan as their links to the organization would be revealed.
Pakistan’s involvement in the Khalistan movement is well documented. Zulfikar Bhutto had stated in support of Khalistan, “Pakistan will also have a Bangladesh carved out of India, except that it will be on Pakistan’s border.” This agenda was further pushed by Zia-ul-Haq. Hussain Haqqani, the former Pakistani ambassador to the US, gave Pakistan’s reasons for supporting the movement. Firstly, it could bleed India. Secondly, if the Khalistan plan succeeded, it could create a buffer between the two countries and finally cut India’s land access to Kashmir. He added that the Pakistan leadership is aware that Khalistan can never emerge, however, it could result in turmoil within India.
A study of the proposed Khalistan map displays the direct involvement of Pakistan. Historically, Lahore was the capital of the erstwhile Sikh empire and amongst its holiest shrines remains Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Pakistan, now connected through the Kartarpur corridor. None of these figure in the Khalistan map. The fact that the Khalistan boundary runs along the Indo-Pak border indicates that movement leaders are unwilling to anger their main financer, ISI. The presence of Gopal Singh Chawla, a known Khalistan supporter, display of banners for the referendum, and presence of members of the SFJ at the inauguration of the Kartarpur corridor, proved Pakistan’s intentions.
While in India there are few takers, abroad there is some support for the movement. In a recent report titled, ‘Khalistan, a project of Pakistan’, Terry Milewski writes, “Fantasy or not, it’s clear who’s really driving the Khalistan bus: Pakistan – the same Pakistan where countless Sikhs were murdered and expelled in the name of Islam.” He adds, “while separatist Sikhs complain loudly and properly about the killing of several thousand Sikhs in 1984, there are no rallies to demand justice for at least a quartermillion Sikhs massacred by Muslims in 1947.” Milewski also quotes Hussain Haqqani whose comments on the proposed referendum for Khalistan were, “the referendum is just a gimmick. And gimmicks make headlines – they don’t change maps.”
Pakistan has attempted to revive support for Khalistan by despatching drugs and weapons across the border, employing traditional smuggling routes and drones. Narcoterrorism is their current preferred option for purchasing supporters in the state, an act which Indian security agencies are seeking to nip in the bud. SFJ attempts to lure Sikh youth into joining the movement have largely failed.
Khalistan supporters abroad have little link with realities in India. The last elections where separatists received a drubbing is proof enough. Most supporters from abroad protest on occasions such as the current agitation by farmers. Their protests in the vicinity of Indian consulates and embassies give them media coverage. Few would attempt to actively participate in anti-national activities in India. On the other hand, anti-Khalistan supporters are in far greater numbers within and outside the country.
Every nation has radicals as part of its society. These are invariably exploited by hostile countries to their advantage. The US Black Life Matters and antifa movements are alleged to be funded by China. Radical Muslims in Europe are being exploited to commit heinous crimes by the Islamic state. In India, radicals in Kashmir and Punjab are exploited by Pakistan and in the North East by China. A few slogans of Khalistan and Pakistan, even if raised during the current farmer protests, are a sign of miniscule radical elements seeking limelight, which must be ignored. They do not represent the majority nor are they backed by the majority.
There are reports of SFJ seeking to incite Indian army personnel into joining their organization. This too is destined to fail. It is only when the government turns a blind eye for political reasons to such movements is when they gain support, which is not the case presently.
The receding Kashmir terrorism, evident from the successful conduct of the District Development Council elections, low local recruitment, incarceration of the Hurriyat and limited political support, indicates Pakistan’s Kashmir policy has failed. As an alternative, it is attempting to bring the Kashmir and Khalistan causes together hoping to create internal strife within North India. The recent arrest of the group consisting of Khalistan supporters and Hizbul Mujahideen militants highlights this new attempt.
The abrogation of Article 370 and failure of their Kashmir policy will push Pakistan to attempt reviving the Khalistan card. For them, the closing of one door implies opening a second. While support to the Khalistan cause will never ever be a repeat of the eighties, security agencies must maintain a close watch and prevent the movement from gaining steam.
The writer is a retired Major-General of the Indian Army.