The killing of Khalistani terrorist Hardeep Singh Nijjar in Canada in June, which triggered a diplomatic row between India and Ottawa, was an outcome of internal turf war between Khalistani groups patronised by former Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan and those backed by Pakistan Army-ISI syndicate.
Canadian Foreign Minister Melanie Joly has held dialogues several times with Pakistani Army-ISI combine as also with political leaders during the last over four years.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shares a close relationship with Joly who has been instrumental in shaping his pro-Khalistan outlook and anti-India stance.
After his divorce with his wife in April this year, Trudeau’s reliance on Joly has further surged leading to his hard-hitting outbursts against India over the killing of Nijjar, counter-terrorism experts tracking the Khalistani movement said. In 2018, the Canadian intelligence agency in a report warned the Government over increasing Khalistani extremism there.
However, the Government stopped the monitoring of the Khalistani terror activities from 2019 onwards. The development came in the backdrop of increasing bonhomie between Joly and the Pakistani politico-military-ISI complex, they said.
“During the period, Pakistan’s notorious spy agency Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) strengthened its Khalistani agenda in Canada to the extent that its operatives were openly invited to the Gurudwara committee meetings by the Sikh extremists.
“Simultaneously, the approach of the Canadian Government towards the Khalistanis softened 2019 onwards,” counter-terrorism and geopolitical analyst Dr Rituraj Mate told The Pioneer.
The terror groups propped up by Pakistan in India and elsewhere receive funding from the Army-ISI syndicate during dictatorial regimes in Islamabad based on loyalty to the Pakistani military establishment. When a political party is in power, the terror groups, including of Khalistani hue, get funding support from the party in power, Dr Mate said.
During his stint as Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan supported the Khalistan Tiger Force headed by Nijjar.
However, the competition between the terrorist groups for funding support took an ugly turn when the Khalistani groups affiliated with the Pakistan Army-ISI liquidated Nijjar at a Gurudwara in British Columbia on June 18 this year, he said, adding, turf war between the terror groups backed by Pakistan is common during the threshold of transition of power between the army and democratic forces in Islamabad.
The relation between India and Canada took a hit after Trudeau stated in Parliament there on September 18 that Canadian intelligence agencies were “pursuing credible allegations of a potential link” between Indian Government agents and the killing of Nijjar.
“The red flags of increasing Khalistani extremism were apparently ignored by the Indian agencies and papered over by the Canadian counterparts. Indian decision makers apparently ignored the meetings between Khalistani terrorists and ISI operatives in Gurudwaras in Canada and 80 per cent of online Khalistani propaganda was being peddled by Pakistani Muslims.
“Indian decision makers in Delhi also did not take cognisance of the love-jehad style of ISI campaign for luring Sikh youth for radicalising them for the so-called Khalistani cause by honey-trapping them,” another analyst said.
Likewise, the Canadian Government not only ignored the intelligence reports of growing Khalistan extremism but also stopped monitoring activities of such groups.
Inter-gang rivalries among gangsters from Punjab are common in Canada now, but the agencies there ignored it.
The timing of the diplomatic spat between New Delhi and Ottawa suggests that the controversy is not going to die down soon as elections are round the corner in India, Canada and Pakistan a few months away.
Pro-Khalistan elements have been “operating freely” from Canadian soil for nearly five decades in the garb of notions like ‘freedom of expression’ and ‘political advocacy’ but the country maintains “complete silence” on intimidation, violence, drug trafficking by these extremists, top sources said.
The bombing of Air India plane Kanishka was perpetrated by Khalistani extremists way back in 1985 and it was the biggest aviation terror attack in the world in the pre-9/11 era.
However, due to the apparent soft-pedaling by Canadian agencies, key accused Talwinder Singh Parmar and his Khalistani extremist cohorts got away scot-free, they said.
If that was not enough, Parmar is now a hero of pro-Khalistan extremists in Canada with banned group Sikhs For Justice (SFJ) naming its campaign centre after him.
During the last four to five years, Khalistani extremists were further “emboldened” and started “operating with impunity” from Canada and issuing blatant threats against Indian diplomats and Hindus.
During the period, links of Canada-based Khalistani extremists have emerged in more than half of the terror cases reported from Punjab, the sources elaborated.
The multiple targeted killings of Sikhs, Hindus and Christians in Punjab after 2016 were the handiwork of Khalistani separatist Nijjar, whose killing has led to a row between India and Canada. During the period, Research and Analysis Wing, country’s external intelligence agency, was helmed by Punjab cadre IPS officer Samant Kumar Goel.
In 2019, when Goel took charge as chief of RAW, the Union Home Ministry then helmed by Rajnath Singh slashed the blacklist of Sikhs barred from travelling to India from 314 to just two. The list officially called the Central Adverse List was pruned in the run up to the opening of the Kartarpur corridor.
Despite India furnishing dossiers on the extremist activities of Khalistani groups, the Canadian agencies never launched any enquiry or investigation against Nijjar and his associates Bhagat Singh Brar, Parry Dulai, Arsh Dalla, Lakbir Landa and many others and they remain “political activists” in Canada.
The lack of cooperation by the Canadian authorities in acting against Khalistani terrorists has led to an increase in the body count in Punjab due to the terror-gangster network operated from Canada, the sources further said.
Pro-India Sikh leader, Ripudaman Singh Malik, was killed in 2022 in Surrey in Canada, a murder ostensibly orchestrated by Nijjar.
But Canadian agencies allegedly did not show any urgency in finding the culprits and unravelling the real conspiracy, they said.
Two local criminals who were not of Indian origin were only charged in the case.
“Soft pedalling” of Khalistanis ensured that moderate and pro-India Sikhs were thrown out of many big Gurdwaras in Canada using the muscle and money power of the pro-Khalistan extremists backed by ISI, they added.
Emboldened by their “rising clout” in the face of official backing in Canada, pro-Khalistan extremists have started openly intimidating the minority Hindus in the Indian diaspora in Canada and defacing their temples.
The recent open threats by Khalistanis to the physical security of Indian missions and diplomats in Canada are a very serious development and challenge the obligation of Canada under the Vienna Convention.
Canada has been vocal in protesting even trivial issues in Punjab but has maintained a “complete silence” on intimidation, violence, drug trafficking and extortion by pro-Khalistan extremists sitting there and affecting both countries, they said.
India has strongly rejected Trudeau’s charge of Indian hand in Nijjar’s killing subbing the same as “absurd” and “motivated” and expelled a senior Canadian diplomat in a tit-for-tat move to Ottawa’s expulsion of an Indian official over the case.
Hardening its stance on the issue, India on September 20 advised all its nationals living in Canada and those contemplating travelling there to exercise “utmost caution” in view of growing anti-India activities and “politically-condoned” hate crimes as well as “criminal violence” in that country.
The next day, New Delhi announced that it was temporarily suspending issuance of visas to Canadian citizens in view of “security threats” faced by its High Commission and consulates in Canada.