The investigation into the murder plot targeting US-based Khalistan leader Gurpatwant Singh Pannun continues, raising the question of who benefits from blaming India. Both the US and Canada are utilizing the Five Eyes intelligence alliance in their pursuit of answers.
Diplomatic strain is at an all-time high between the US and Indian governments after Washington charged New Delhi with masterminding a conspiracy to kill US-based Khalistan movement leader Gurpatwant Singh Pannun.
Pannun, a lawyer in New York who was designated as a terrorist by the Indian government, founded Sikhs for Justice (SFJ) in 2007. The organization is prohibited in India because it supports Khalistan, a separate homeland for Sikhs that would be created out of the state of Punjab and some surrounding areas.
The US FBI thwarted the plot. Nikhil Gupta, an Indian national and narcotics dealer, was accused by the US Department of Justice last week of conspiring to kill Pannun—who is not specifically mentioned in the indictment—at the request of an Indian official.
The US is treating the subject seriously and has been pressuring the Indian government to look into it more in recent months.
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A high-level committee has been formed in India to investigate the matter. The minister of external affairs for India, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, has repeatedly said that his country would take action if given specific information, but that it is not the policy of the Indian government to take such measures.
The story of Pannun is taking place in the context of a comparable case, which is inevitably brought up in the FBI inquiry.
Leader of the Sikh separatist movement in Canada, Hardeep Singh Nijjar, who was also listed as a terrorist by India, was killed in June of this year by unidentified gunmen. In September, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that Nijjar’s death may have been connected to the Indian government.
As a result of Trudeau’s dramatic accusation on the floor of the Canadian parliament in September, which he thought to be plausible, there was an unprecedented diplomatic quarrel between the two nations.
According to the Justice Department, India hired DEA agents to assassinate terrorist Gurpatwant Singh Pannun on US soil.
New Delhi dismissed the accusations as baseless. Additionally, it charged that Canada has not done enough to punish its nationals for their support of the Khalistan movement, which seeks independence for India’s Punjab, a volatile area that borders Pakistan and has experienced a spike in terrorist attacks since the 1980s. This is true even though these activists have publicly supported terrorist acts against India and have threatened to harm key Indian officials, such as Prime Minister Narendra Modi, as well as Indian diplomats stationed in Canada.
India expelled 41 Canadian diplomats because it believed that Canada—including its envoys there—was meddling in its domestic affairs.
The United States and Canada have collaborated extensively on the Nijjar case. Though it was never made public, the data supporting Trudeau’s claims was gathered with assistance from Ottawa’s allies in the Five Eyes intelligence community, which also consists of the UK, Australia, and New Zealand. Regarding the Nijjar case, all of these nations have conveyed their “concern” and asked for India’s assistance.
India has been officially urged by the US State Department and the White House to assist Canadian investigators and punish anyone in India who is believed to be at fault. When asked in September if Canada’s case may have an impact on US-India ties, US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan responded frankly, saying that no nation was exempt from such laws.
It has now come to light that, when accusations against New Delhi over Nijjar’s case were made public in September, Washington was fully aware of the aspects emerging in the Pannun murder conspiracy investigation. This helps to explain why US Secretary of State Antony Blinken stated at the time that the US and Canada were working together on the Nijjar issue in addition to cooperating.
However, there is a distinction between New Delhi’s response to US and Canadian claims. While India has not yet received any specific information from Ottawa regarding Nijjar’s case that it may follow on its own, it appears that the US has given India-specific material regarding the Pannun case such that India can conduct its investigation. The foreign minister of India made this declaration, this time in front of the Indian parliament. An Indian official claims that the US has provided intelligence on terrorism, drug smuggling, and organized violence, all of which are threats to the security of both nations.
Blinken and the White House spokeswoman have both praised India’s response to US accusations concerning Pannun’s situation. The White House’s remark that, although they take the Pannun case very seriously, it will not influence the India-US strategic partnership—which the US will continue to fight to deepen and strengthen—explains the evident intention on both sides to manage the damage from this case.
The fact that the scheduled India-US 2+2 Dialogue between the two nations’ defense and foreign ministers took place confirms this. Just as the Pannun case was brought up, the US Deputy National Security Advisor traveled to India to talk about bilateral relations, namely the collaboration in crucial technologies. Additionally, New Delhi is contextualizing the impending visit of FBI Director Wray to the country next week within the framework of the two nations’ common security concerns. It appears that Pannun feels safe and has a sense of impunity because he threatened to attack the Indian parliament the night before the FBI Director’s visit, knowing that India would bring up his issue with the US.
Even though there are strong reasons for both parties to prevent this lawsuit from severing relations, the truth is very clear. Despite India’s requests for extradition, countries such as the US, Canada, and the UK—which has a thriving Khalistan lobby—have been harboring people that New Delhi has designated as terrorists.
Pannun, a resident of New York and member of the outlawed Sikhs for Justice group, has been threatening the Indian prime minister and the minister of external affairs, as well as planning “referendums” for an independent Khalistan in India.
On November 19, he made a clear threat to blow up an Air India flight. When Sikh terrorists brought down an Air India aircraft in 1985, 329 innocent people perished. Pannun issued a warning about an attack on the Indian Cricket World Cup finals and Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi. Pannun seemed to issue a fresh threat this week, alleging that he was the target of an attempt on his life by the Indian government. He stated that the reaction, scheduled for December 13, would rock “the very foundation” of the Indian parliament. The anniversary of the terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament building in 2021, which claimed nine lives, is December 13.
There is no evidence that US authorities have taken any action to stop Pannun’s activities, even though American Sikh radicals have attempted to firebomb the Indian Consulate in San Francisco twice.
This is particularly true for Canada, where proponents of Khalistani hold political sway. Trudeau’s minority government is heavily reliant on the New Democratic Party (NDP), led by the well-known Khalistani sympathizer Jagmeet Singh.
The US, Canada, and the UK assert that their laws do not permit any restrictions on the freedom of speech or the right to peaceful protest, hence they are unable to pursue legal action against Pannun. India does not accept this argument.
Threats of terrorism and the encouragement of separatists in another nation are not acceptable uses of the right to free speech. The history of violence and terrorism in Punjab, as well as the tremendous efforts made to repress it, are well known to the US, Canada, and the UK. They are aware that terrorist commanders who are Sikh are granted safe havens in a neighboring nation, and that cross-border support for terrorism persists.
Therefore, the question of why these nations won’t act to stop these groups on their soil that threaten a friendly nation with which they have a strategic alliance emerges. Respecting each other’s sovereignty and refraining from meddling in one another’s domestic affairs ought to be the foundational values of such cooperation. Thus, there is a suspicion that the Deep State is using these anti-Indian groups and the cause they support as a leverage point against India.
Notably, multiple anonymous sources disclosed the Pannun story to the Financial Times initially. The deputy prime minister of Canada, Chrystia Freeland, was the managing editor of FT US, the FT correspondent in Moscow, and also held editorial posts at the Financial Times in the UK. Additionally, she worked as an editor for the Canadian newspaper Globe and Mail, where before Trudeau’s speech in parliament, the supposed Indian connection to the Nijjar case was disclosed.
It appears that the purpose of these press leaks was to formally expose the problem to the public. It would have looked in Canada’s best interest to control the leak to the FT, as they were smarting from the actions taken by the Indian government against them and to lend more credibility to Trudeau and his government, who were accused by the opposition of mishandling India in the Nijjar issue. It is important to acknowledge the questionable involvement of the Five Eyes intelligence organizations in these matters.
The US Drug Enforcement Agency, which is engaged in the Pannun case, employs active entrapment as one of its working strategies. There are rumors that the US Department of Justice is highly politicized. India has been the victim of several attacks on democracy, human rights, and minority issues from the US media, academia, think tanks, human rights organizations, and the “progressive” wings of the Democratic Party. The story goes that the Biden administration is dubious about India’s commitment to US ideals and is “soft” on the country.
That story would be furthered by the Pannun murder conspiracy, which involved a purported attempt by official Indian elements to kill a US resident on US grounds.
Although the US has been openly requesting that New Delhi assist Ottawa in its investigation of the Nijjar case, Canada has never been asked to assist India in resolving the latter’s concerns of terrorist and extremist elements operating within Canadian borders.
Similarly, Washington has never explained its unrestricted access to those whom India has designated as terrorists by its legal system, despite Washington’s raising of the Pannun case with India. Pannun is thought by some Indians to be a CIA operative. It begs the issue of common sense as to why India, at any official level, would act in such a manner on American territory given the political ramifications for the India-US relationship, which is growing stronger across the board.
Ultimately, considering the likelihood of exposure, Pannun is not a significant enough target in the grand scheme of things to warrant taking such a risk. For many years, India has been the target of fatal terrorist assaults, such as the horrifying Mumbai attack in November 2008 that left over 300 people injured and 166 dead. India, however, has not eliminated a known terrorist who was involved in it next door. As a democracy that upholds the law, India does not operate in this manner.
Unfortunately, organizations in the United States, Great Britain, and Canada are attempting to elevate terrorists like Pannun to a respectable international profile. Is it the goal of some in these nations to resurrect the danger of terrorism in an area of India where there is essentially no support from the local population, but there are Sikh diaspora members in the West who are actively inciting unrest?