In India’s counter-terrorism strategy, the Khalistani separatist movement is proving to be a double-edged sword. It is not just the specter of violent acts directed against India, Khalistan proponents are using the soft power of legislative mechanisms in foreign shores to drum up popular support. And India is now increasingly retro-fitting its counter-terrorism strategy to counter this challenge. From now on, the Khalistani threat will feature prominently in the anti-terrorism dialogues India conducts with nations across the world.
The Ministry of External Affairs has confirmed to TEHELKA that India is in fact elevating the prominence of Khalistani extremism in its counter-terrorism dialogues with various nations in the West. The most prominent among them being the US, UK, Canada and Germany – which have a large Punjabi diaspora and have been the hotbed of the resurgence of Khalistani extremism directed against India.
Even though it’s business as usual at the Ministry of External Affairs, there will be an enhanced focus on Khalistani extremism in addition to Islamic terror that has largely dominated Joint-Working Group (JWG) on counter-terrorism meetings between India and various nations, most significantly the US. India presently has JWGs on counter-terrorism with 24 nations apart from the European Union and Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-sectoral Econiomic and Technical Cooperation (BIMSTEC) groupings. “We will be encouraging enhanced information sharing on Khalistani suspects apart from asking the nations to step up monitoring of such activities”, an MEA official informed TEHELKA.
This is a subtle departure from the usual contents of the deliberations undertaken as a part of the JWGs on counter-terrorism with various nations across the world. India’s counter-terrorism dialogue under this process has been hinging on two aspects. While with the US, the thrust has been on bringing the perpetrators of 26/11 Mumbai attacks to book, the discussions with Britain and other EU stated have revolved around logistics and pre-emption of future dastardly attacks on Indian soil by Islamic fanatics.
The resurgence of Khalistani extremism will now figure in talks with the US and also be discussed within the parameters of intelligence sharing, information exchange and operational cooperation. The JWG on Counter-terrorism is a part of the India-US Strategic dialogue. India’s Intelligence Bureau Chief Nehchal Sandhu and India’s Home Secretary RK Singh were a part of the delegation in June 2012 that discussed security issues as a part of the strategic dialogue with the US in Washington DC.
The next JWG on counter-terrorism between the two nations is likely to figure the growing might of Khalistani proponents; which the experts on foreign policy believe will be an addition to the dominance of 26/11 issues like speedy trial and comprehensive information sharing of terror investigations. Apart from the US, Canada too figures prominently as there are underground pro-Khalistan groups active in the country. In the meeting between the two nations held on 29 November and headed by Ashok Mukherji, Special Secretary, Ministry of External Affairs, India and Artur Wilczynski, Director General for International Relations, Canada, there were discussions on upgrading the threat assessments arising from the small yet volatile pro-Khalistani groups and networks in Canada.
In addition to the US, the Khalistani question is also likely to figure in the next dialogues with European nations like UK and Germany where pro-Khalistani cells have been quite active. In focus will be Britain, where the self appointed president of the Council of Khalistan, Gurmit Singh Aulakh has been garnering support from the diaspora and local British MPs in a desperate attempt to re-ignite the issue. In addition to information sharing on such groups, India also wants Britain to crack down on the propaganda machinery of Aulakh and others, fearing that the relatively young Indian Punjabi diaspora might be brainwashed by the diatribe.
In the 8th JWG meeting between the two nations held in November, there was a silent acknowledgement of the increasing ‘soft-power’ rise of Khalistani voices which may eventually translate into violent attacks on Indian soil. India is also concerned with the use of Khalistani elements of Germany as a base for planning and executing attacks like the one on Bluestar commander Lt Gen KS Brar in London in 2012. Various Khalistani activists have been arrested in Germany and India is further looking to enhance information sharing on suspected individuals and groups with Berlin.