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How Pakistan Army, ISI Are Trying To Revive The Sikh Insurgency In India – Analysis

Is Pakistan making a serious attempt to revive the Sikh insurgency in India? Indian authorities now strongly believe that some activists of the Khalistan-movement played a significant role in the violent riots in New Delhi on January 26 when a section of the dissident farmers seized the historic Red Fort.

And if they are eventually proved right, then the “credit” to a considerable extent for this will go to Pakistan Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa.  

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Serious research by experts and security analysts are now conclusively pointing out the hand of General Bajwa in efforts towards reviving various Khalistani groups that were eviscerated by Indian security forces in 1992. The Pakistani intelligence outfit ISI has been engaged by General Bajwa to keep alive the support for Khalistan not only in the pockets of the global Sikh diaspora but also within India.  

It is to General Bajwa’s “credit” that unlike with the already strong Sikh diaspora in Canada, the United States, and Great Britain where the ISI fishes in the troubled water, he has fathered the establishment of a strong contingent of the Sikh diaspora in Italy with illegal immigrants from Punjab. 

Journalist and South Asia expert Francesca Marino has pointed out how the ISI through one Gurpatwant Singh Pannu, legal advisor to the so-called ‘Sikhs For Justice’ outfit, is promoting militancy among the 70,000 Sikhs (illegally coming with the help of Pakistani agents) in Italy. So much so that the Sikh diaspora in Italy now is most violent against the Indian diplomatic mission and properties. 

On January 25, they vandalized the Indian Embassy in Rome, raised “flags of Khalistan” at night, and scribbled “Khalistan zindabad” on the walls. India has lodged a protest with Italy, demanding that the safety of the Indians, including diplomats, is the responsibility of the host government. 

However, it is Georgetown University’s scholars – C. Christine Fair, Kerry Ashkenaze, Scott Batchelder – who in their recent study on “the Sikh Insurgency” have painstakingly proved General Bajwa’s role in keeping the Khalistani movement wherever possible. 

They have constructed a novel dataset of Khalistani terror incidents perpetrated in the last decade. These data demonstrate the revivification of the Khalistani terrorism, with strong support from the ISI, which has engineered connections among Khalistani activists, militants operating in Kashmir, and narcotics traffickers. 

They argue that the revival of the Khalistan movement is part of Pakistan’s strategy to wage proxy warfare under its nuclear umbrella as a substitution strategy for its use of Islamist proxies, such as Lashkar-e-Tayyaba and Jaish-e-Mohammad.  

Some noteworthy points emerge from their study: Late extremist leader Bhindranwale-depicted t-shirts, posters, and other paraphernalia are purveyed in markets around India’s various gurudwaras — including the Sikhs’ holiest of holies, the Golden Temple — and Bhindranwale’s photo is included among many of Sikh historical martyrs within many Gurdwaras. 

Though without a proper census, it is impossible to estimate the share of Gurdwaras in India and beyond that include his photo among those of traditional martyrs, really worrisome is that in recent years there have been several dozen Khalistani attacks within India itself and many more that were disrupted by security forces. 

ISI is helping the Khalistani outfits to recruit youth and arm them for terror attacks in India. Indian officials have captured Chinese hexacopters (one of China’s tactical drones with six blades) dropping drugs and munitions across the international border for attacks in India. These hexacopters have a payload of 80 kg. 

In September 2019, Punjab police learned that “at least eight drone sorties, carrying a total of 80 kg of weapons (arms and ammunition), were sent across the border into Punjab by Pakistan-based Khalistani terror groups between September 9 and 16” in Amritsar and Tarn Taran. This consignment was facilitated by the Khalistan Zindabad Force (KZF) network, with support from the ISI, with the aim of supporting violence in Jammu and Kashmir. 

In January 2020, police arrested an Indian Army soldier and two others, including a drone operator. They were part of a gang launching drones with a 2-3 km range between India and Pakistan for narcotics trafficking. The police seized “drone batteries, custom-made drone containers, two walkie-talkie sets, Rs 6.22 lakh, believed to be proceeds of drugs, and a magazine of an INSAS rifle.” 


Secondly, Pakistani officials openly admit that the Kartarpur corridor that was opened with much fanfare in 2019 (connecting Dera Baba Nanak in the border town of Gurdaspur to Gurdwara Darbara sahib in Pakistan. The visa-free 4.7 km travel) was General Qamar Javed Bajwa’s brainchild. 

Sheikh Rashid, a long-time politician who has held multiple federal ministerial positions since 1991 and who currently holds the coveted portfolio of Interior Minister, has said that “India will remember forever the kind of wound inflicted on it by Gen. Bajwa by opening the Kartarpur Corridor…Gen. Bajwa strongly hit India by opening the corridor.” 

Thirdly, there is ample and growing evidence of active collusion between the Islamist terror group Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT) and key Khalistani activists, who were also integral members of the Kartarpur Corridor process. General Secretary of the Pakistan Sikh Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (PSGPC), Gopal Singh Chawla is very close to Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT) leader Hafiz Saeed. 

The PSGPC is an enigmatic body when compared to its Indian counterpart, the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC). Whereas India’s SGPC leadership is elected by any registered Sikh man or woman over the age of 18, the Government of Pakistan selects the members of the PSGPC, who in turn appoint their own President and General Secretary.  

Fourthly, Pakistan’s ISI has helped to form the so-called “Kashmir Khalistan Referendum Front (KKRF),” which has incidentally filed a class-action suit against the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Houston. ISI is actively aiding the so-called Sikhs for Justice outfit which is claiming to hold a referendum of the Sikhs everywhere for an independent Sikh homeland.  

Interestingly, while General Bajwa has made Khalistan a key component of Pakistan’s military doctrine of “bleeding India with a thousand cuts” and avenging its defeat in the 1971 war, he is confident that the policy will not backfire on Pakistan by overlooking the fact that the capital of legendary Sikh ruler Ranjit Singh’s empire, which the Khalistanis want to restore, was Lahore.  

But, will ultimately General Bajwa get real success in making Khalistan a reality? That is another story.  

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Author and veteran journalist Prakash Nanda has been commenting on Indian politics, foreign policy on strategic affairs for nearly three decades. A former National Fellow of the Indian Council for Historical Research and recipient of the Seoul Peace Prize Scholarship, he is also a Distinguished Fellow at the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies. He has been a Visiting Professor at Yonsei University (Seoul) and FMSH (Paris). He has also been the Chairman of the Governing Body of leading colleges of the Delhi University. Educated at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, he has undergone professional courses at Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy (Boston) and Seoul National University (Seoul). Apart from writing many monographs and chapters for various books, he has authored books: Prime Minister Modi: Challenges Ahead; Rediscovering Asia: Evolution of India’s Look-East Policy; Rising India: Friends and Foes; Nuclearization of Divided Nations: Pakistan, Koreas and India; Vajpayee’s Foreign Policy: Daring the Irreversible. He has written over 3000 articles and columns in India’s national media and several international dailies and magazines. CONTACT: prakash.nanda@hotmail.com
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