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Reviving Khalistan


Asian Tribune, Jul. 10, 2005

A well planned move to revive militancy among the Sikhs in the country would appear to have been made if all the reports supplied to the media by Delhi Police following the arrest of Jagtar Singh Hawara, described as the chief of the India operation of the Babbar Khalsa International (B.K.I.), are true.

What these reports have highlighted is the following: that the flow of funds to the B.K.I. from Europe and other foreign countries, including Pakistan, has increased; the pro-Khalistani organisation has been able to raise a team of motivated 'human bombs' and other volunteers to carry out a series of attacks in India, on both men and material; and logistics for these operations have also been worked out with safe houses and places demarcated, weapons and ammunition stocked and targets identified.

It certainly needs to be examined how is it that when militancy in Kashmir is showing signs of slowing, it is trying to reappear in the neighbouring state of Punjab. The police have said that Hawara, after escaping from prison some time ago, was living in Punjab - not underground, but with his family and relatives. In the 'high security' jail near Chandigarh, some Khalistani elements used to meet him regularly. His advocacy for militancy and Khalistan was well-known in his family and among his friends. His sudden opulence aroused no suspicion, but now it is known that there were signs that the militants were setting up sleeping cells in Punjab with his help.

If disclosures after Hawara's arrest - followed by the arrest of would be 'human bomb' Satnam Singh - did not cause alarm bells to ring in the country the reason can only be attributed to the unfortunate low credibility of the police. Also, most of the details of militancy have come after recording 'confessions' by the men recently arrested and there is a tendency to take the 'confession' details with a pinch of salt. It is also true that by and large the people of Punjab, who had abhorred militancy when it was at its height in the 1980s, have shown no interest in reviving militancy. But it might be a mistake to dismiss the chances of revival of Sikh militancy as zero because some other related factors do point to the fact that certain foreign organisations which have been supporting militancy in various parts of India are alive and kicking even while their governments are alleged to have stopped helping them or 'banned' them.

As was the case in the 1980s, the real encouragement and motivation for militancy among the Sikhs comes from Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (I.S.I.), which had explored this route of mindless and cruel death and destruction in Punjab before extending it to Jammu and Kashmir. When militancy in Punjab collapsed Pakistan drew consolation from the fact that it did prove that India can 'bleed' at many places and, what is more, it nearly succeeded in sowing the seeds of fissures between the two major communities of Punjab. The decimation of the militants' movement in Punjab did not dishearten the Pakistani backers who thought they would be able to revive it again after a gap.

In the Pakistani calculation the time to revive trouble in Punjab may have arrived now as its terrorist operations in Kashmir cannot be carried out with the same ease and impunity as before because of the concentration of international (call it U.S.) focus on the region (Kashmir) and the compulsions of the so-called peace process which is being keenly watched by the U.S.

Militants' violence in Kashmir attracts worldwide attention and even while capitals like Washington and London might not openly agree that Pakistan continues to back violence in Kashmir they know that accusations against Islamabad are not false. But Khalistan is different. Pakistan has helped the Khalistanis enough to build an influential lobby for them in some of the Western capitals, notably Washington. Islamabad might find it easier to make the Americans believe that they have nothing to do with militancy in Punjab rather than continue to make incredible claims of having backed off from militancy in Kashmir.

Even though Khalistani propagators continue to thrive in countries like Canada, the U.K. and the U.S., much of their present support comes from Pakistan and certain misguided elements within the community. Many Khalistanis have made Pakistan their permanent home where they face little or no restrictions on their movements.

Occasions like a gathering at Sikh shrines provide ample opportunities to the Khalistan propagators to announce their agenda before a wide audience. The host governments ignore protests from visiting Indians about the nefarious games of these Khalistanis.

Yes, foreign governments, which had proved to be quite 'hospitable' to the Khalistanis during its initial years, over 20 years ago, are no longer willing to extend to them the same kind of support they did in the 1980s. For example, militants calling themselves advocates of Khalistan fleeing from India, allegedly on grounds that they are being persecuted in this country, are no longer entitled to 'automatic' grant of political 'asylum' in most Western countries as they have realised that there is no persecution of Khalistanis in India because there is no grassroot support for them. At the same time, foreign governments do not put former Khalistani militants under the scanner.

Pakistan, on the other hand, continues to cultivate them and seems to have issued a blank cheque for all rabidly anti-Indian Khalistanis who can come and live in Pakistan and render 'useful' service to Pakistan.

In all the euphoria created over the 'peace process' in the sub-continent, one fact that has not drawn sufficient attention is that even if militancy in Kashmir is a notch lower than it was at any time in the last six months or so Pakistan is kicking up other areas of India-Pakistan. Months after staging a coup, the Pakistani dictator, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, sang only a one note samba of 'Kashmir, Kashmir,' maintaining that except for Kashmir there was hardly any other intractable issue between the two neighbours. He would even mockingly tell his audiences in Pakistan that even he cannot enumerate any other problem with India after Kashmir.

But things are very different today with the General having given up his one note samba. He has also made sure that the strain in relations with India does not go away. Now that some optimism has begun to be generated about resolving the Kashmir issue, Pakistan has brought out a host of problems that are going to bedevil relations between the two countries for a long, long time. Indus water sharing dispute, raised by Kashmir, has the potential of becoming the next biggest bottleneck in Indo-Pak bilateral relations.

Demarcation of 'boundaries' (or whatever name one would like to use in the context) between the two countries in areas as far apart as Sir Creek and Siachen is proving to be a tricky problem. Pakistan has firmly ruled out opening up of trade ties with India till the 'core' problem is settled.

At the U.N., Pakistan is assuming the lead role in singing the chorus against expansion of the Security Council if it includes India. One can be sure that if and when the Security Council issue is taken up at the U.N. headquarters, the Khalistanis would make their presence felt by organising a noisy demonstration, which, as always, would include many Pakistanis.