Spat with Trudeau: Time to take stock and move on
This article is authored by Tara Kartha, Distinguished Fellow, IPCS.
Now that the rage has subsided, its time to take stock of the fall out of Prime Minister (PM) Justin Trudeau ‘s ‘credible allegations’ and look ahead, taking into account some realities and facts. After all, this is an issue of bilateral relations only, and should not affect relations with other countries at a time of edgy international politics. In other words, it’s time to reflect and look for a way to move on.
Consider the facts. First, anyone with even a superficial knowledge of Canadian policies know that a variety of criminals shelter in Canada. Of the 6,913 top wanted people by Interpol, 53 are in Canada, and that’s only among those notified as such. Others, like Gurpatwant Singh Panun, who has threatened murder and mayhem, remain outside the pale of the law. The hardy Sikhs set up their first gurudwara set up in 1905, and Canada is home to the largest Sikh population outside India, forming some 2% of the total. It was natural that those fleeing the 1980’s Indian operations after the assassination of Indira Gandhi, would flee to Canada, where they found not only support but freedom to espouse their cause. Those freedoms were abused and lead to the Air India bombing, which killed 329, and remains the worst air tragedy to date. Canadians are justly proud of their freedoms, and cite these to justify political shelter. In fact, these are subject to “reasonable limits” in the Constitution's preamble. In addition, the Criminal Code (sec 319) also provides for ‘Public/Wilful incitement of hatred” with a maximum punishment of upto two years. So, when a Khalistani procession on June 4, featured a gory tableau showing the late PM Indira Gandhi being shot at by her policemen assassin, it should have led to immediate arrests. It didn’t. Nor is action to yet to be taken against Panun for asking Hindus to leave Canada, nor indeed against the hundreds of incidents over the years which included threats against TV reporter, Pardeep Bains for criticism of Amritpal Singh. Bains claimed that the threats included pictures of his family's home in the Hoshiarpur district of Punjab. Some of the threats were made via WhatsApp calls, with the numbers appearing to originate from Pakistan and Malaysia. Students from Punjab in particular have been harassed or alternatively offered help in getting documentation if they follow the Khalistanis. All this and more are now coming out in public. Canada has a real problem, and it could rebound on itself.
If the prevailing law was not enough, Canada could have relied on its obligations under Interpol, which had issued a ‘red corner notice’ against Nijjar in 2016, according to most sources as well as 7 others wanted by India. Interpol notices are international requests for cooperation and are issued by the general secretariat at the request of a member country. A notice is published only if it complies with Interpol’s constitution and fulfils all conditions, to ensure the legality and quality of information, and protection of personal data. For example, a notice will not be published if it violates Article 3 of Interpol’s constitution, which forbids it from undertaking any intervention or activities of a political, military, religious or racial character. The request is further examined for compliance by a specialized multilingual and multidisciplinary task force comprising lawyers, police officers and operational specialists. At some point, the ‘red corner notice’- which requires a State ‘To seek the location and arrest of persons wanted for prosecution or to serve a sentence’ - was issued against Nijjar and made the criteria. Canada can argue that it has no extradition treaty with India, but under Interpol it was at least required to make a proper investigation. There is no indication that it did. Alternatively, it could choose to use it powerful anti-terrorism law to detain Khalistanis, who have even now, made specific threats against officers of the Indian High Commission, and earlier, threats to storm Indira Gandhi International (IGI) Airport in New Delhi to avenge arrests of its cadres. Panun had also reportedly offered a monetary reward of ₹1 lakh in exchange for information on families of Delhi Police officers residing in Canada, the United Kingdom (UK), Germany, Italy, and Australia. It is difficult to see what else Canada is waiting for. Incidentally, the Babbar Khalsa is a listed terrorist entity in Canada, making it even easier for Toronto to act against Nijjar who headed its off shoot the Khalistan Tiger Force. There are other BKI terrorists in Canada, as well as a range of criminals whose names have been identified by India’s National Investigation Agency, who have invested ill gotten money in Canada, including in its Premier League. Apart from this are recent cases of human smuggling into Canada of Sri Lankans via Mangaluru. In short, a strong cooperation between the agencies would yield considerable benefits to both.
Here’s another set of facts. Amritpal Singh literally burst on the scene last year, after the mysterious death of activist and actor Deep Sidhu, taking over the newly formed Waris Punjab de. Earlier, Sidhu who had championed farmers rights and that of Punjab had kept him at bay suspecting some hidden agenda. And so, it was. Amritpal, a shorn Sikh and truck driver from Dubai, was ‘baptised’ at Rode, and virtually donned the robes of Bhindranwale, and created chaos for a while, till he was carted away to prison. But his arrest – as this author had warned – set ablaze the Khalistan issue simultaneously in the UK, the US, Australia, Canada and even New Zealand. Rather coincidentally, all were ‘five eyes’ countries, an intelligence alliance that is strictly Anglo-Saxon. This series of events would undoubtedly have alarmed Delhi, especially since it also involved damage of embassy/high commission premises, in London, the US and Canada. While the first two acted with alacrity in restraining further such protests – though London could have prevented the chaos due to adequate warning – Canada did virtually nothing. Remember, that all of this happened just after the highly successful visit of PM Modi to the US. Oddly though, while Nijjar was killed in June 18, yet the G-20 visit went without a hitch, though the Khalistanis in Canada were in full cry. No overtones of this was apparent, until PM Trudeau went back to his country and went public, the same day that a controversial ‘referendum’ in Brampton was held (September 18). Prior to that, Toronto had refused permission for a referendum in Surrey. Clearly, these were political moves, but set that aside for the moment. There is no way at all that these attacks were not coordinated. The question is by whom. That should concern all these countries, given their susceptibility to apparent foreign interference from their soil in the internal affairs of a third country.
Cynics everywhere, not just in India, will point at the US as a ‘partner’ to be wary of, and which is at all times, intolerant of ‘strong’ governments that have a mind of its own. True also that in recent days, US authorities warned prominent Khalistan supporters like Amarjit Singh and Pritpal Singh among others, of possible threats against them. A paper by US-based Hudson Institute not just outlines the extensive activities of pro-Khalistan groups but also underlines their close proximity to those espousing terrorist agendas in Kashmir and Palestine. That has long included Pakistan based groups like the Jamaat e Islami, and other openly backed Pakistani organisations like Friends of Kashmir. A curious aspect is that tax returns of these groups show highly limited funding ( the Surrey gurudwara shows sinking funds) and despite which these groups were able to stage highly effective crowds in five countries. All of this then raises the question whether the whole Khalistan issue was planned by the US and its allies, to take PM Modi down a peg or two. But the timing is wrong. The G20 saw immense cooperation from the US in terms of the final document, not to mention the steadily increasing sets of issues that the two are cooperating on. There is a growing comfort with working with the Us inside India, and the ‘China threat’ is only likely to increase. Add to this the rather mild response by secretary of state Anthony Blinken in response to a series of hostile questions by the media, and the fact that military Exercises in Alaska are ongoing, and the picture is rather different. Further add to this, that support for India is bipartisan in Congress, and that scenario fades.
The who else answer may seem obvious. Pakistan’s envy of India’s rise is in public view. Rather like the ‘dog that didn’t bark’ in a Sherlock Holmes movie, there was no Khalistani activity in Pakistan at all, despite the fact that major leaders are comfortably resident there. But then neither does Pakistan have the funds for expensive spy games, at least not from obvious sources. Chinese State-controlled media is having a field day on the issue; certainly any serious rupture between India and the rest would leave the Indo-Pacific venture with a rather large hole in the middle. It seems it’s in the interests of all, to get to the bottom of this intricate problem. That requires sustained effort with Canada participating. That means starting at the lowest common denominator. Consider an old story. In 2019, the US OFAC (Office of Foreign Assets Control) designated one Harmohan Singh Hakimzada, and his son Jasmeet as global narcotics traffickers. According to US officials the Dubai-based ring smuggled heroin, cocaine, ephedrine, ketamine, and synthetic opioids into the United States, Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom. Consequently, India’s National Investigation Agency, acted against Varinder Singh Chahal, who was part of this ring, and a member of the Khalistan Liberation Force (KLF). Charge sheets against others linked to the Dubai gang, showed an solid link between drug trafficking and terrorism. UN Office on Drugs and Crime reported not only a huge rise in Afghan origin narcotics seizures in India, some of which was destined for Canada, but also that 29% of narcotics seized in Canada were from Pakistan. Add to that the litany of organised crime links that Indian agencies are pointing out. So, here’s the beginning. Start by cooperating on narcotics trafficking, mandated by the several dozens UN resolutions on this, which might go some way to reduce the finances of these groups. Then move on to organised crime. Notice that no one’s talking about the criminal Sukdool Singh, killed in Winnipeg, who like Nijjar had fled on false documents. There’s a lot of work to be done and loopholes to be closed with all concerned cooperating, even as India needs to increase its forensics capabilities to provide irrefutable proof of criminal activity.
This article is authored by Tara Kartha, Distinguished Fellow, IPCS.