Pakistani Sponsorship of Khalistani Extremism: Sanction it! – Op-Ed

Pakistani sponsorship of Khalistani extremism and violence are very good reasons for Canada to place the Pakistani regime on Canada’s list of state sponsors of terrorism

By Daniel Eisen

October 2, 2020

Are Canadian communities being politically targeted by a state-sponsor of terrorism? The answer, according to a recent report by veteran former CBC journalist Terry Milewski, would appear to be yes.

Published by the Macdonald-Laurier Institute and titled “Khalistan: A Project of Pakistan, the report explores Pakistan’s ongoing sponsorship of Khalistan-related extremism, defined by Canadian authorities as an ideology supporting “violent means to establish an independent state within India.” This mode of extremism was listed in a 2018 Canadian government report, as one of the “top five national security issues for Canada”.

While these particular extremists seem to have successfully sidestepped some of the global notoriety of fellow extremist entities like the Muslim Brotherhood or its various offshoots, it has nevertheless compiled a competitive and distinguished resumé of egregious terrorist violence.

Canada in particular is painfully familiar with just how deadly this particular genus of extremism can be.

The Canadian public first became fully aware of Khalistani extremism with the 1985 Air India bombings. The attacks were the deadliest aviation terrorist incident in history prior to 9/11, murdering 329 people including 286 Canadian citizens, 86 children and 29 entire nuclear families.

These bombings were a distinctly Canadian event – perpetrated by Canadians, targeting Canadians; and orchestrated from Canadian soil. But, as noted by Milewski, the Air India victims represent only a small fraction of the Khalistani extremist body count. Over a 12-year period ending in 1993, 21,469 lives, mostly Sikh, were murdered primarily by Sikh fundamentalists, in the Sikh home state of the Punjab.

The 2018 government report would seem to strengthen earlier reporting by Milewski and other journalists that supporters of violent Khalistan-related extremism have remained neither politically dormant nor ideologically reticent in Canada. But Milewski’s most recent report goes a step further, perhaps shedding light on the current prioritization of Khalistani extremism by Canadian security officials.

As compellingly laid out in his report, Milewski contends that this extremist element is not acting independently. Rather, it has foreign state support from a regime described by the Brookings Institution and other think tanks as one of the world’s most prolific sponsors of terrorism – the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.

The same Pakistan which drove out millions of Hindus and Sikhs in the aftermath of partition, leaving a quarter of a million Sikhs among the dead. The same Pakistan that has subjected the remaining 10,000 Sikhs under its dominion to forced conversions, attacks on gurdwaras and worsening discrimination. The same regime that brutally oppresses other Muslim and non-Muslim minorities and sentences people to death for blasphemy. And the very same Pakistan that has shown no proclivity for ceding a single inch of Sikh “territory” located in Pakistan to the proposed Khalistani state it enthusiastically supports if established on sovereign territory belonging to its arch-rival, India.

As Milewski demonstrates, Pakistan’s cynical interest in the Khalistan issue is not new. He traces Pakistan’s proximity to and support of Khalistani violent extremism from Justice Major’s findings in the Air India inquiry to present efforts to hold a “referendum” for November 2020, by proponents of an independent Khalistan. The current referendum campaign, argues Milewski, is supported primarily by Khalistani separatists in the West enjoying a close relationship with the Pakistani government, a contention that is likely to be denied and vigorously challenged by the organizers.

Canada for its part has already declared its support for a united India and will not recognize this referendum, and according to Milewski’s data it would appear there is little appetite for this idea in the Punjab itself. The last Punjabi elections saw the success of a fervently anti-separatist government in this Sikh-majority state which is home to 92% of all Sikhs, with separatists claiming a paltry 0.32% share of the vote.

It is also unclear whether the Sikh diaspora, which Milewski emphasizes will not and should not forget the “vicious pogroms which took thousands of Sikh lives” in India after the assassination of Indira Gandhi in 1984, will show up to vote, in what numbers, or how they will vote if they do.

To be clear, choosing to support an independent Khalistan in no way renders one an extremist, and opposing that same proposition does not define one as a racist. But whatever the results may be, the only predetermined “winner” in this plebiscite will be Pakistan itself. A Pakistan that, according to Husain Haqqani, a former Pakistani Ambassador to Washington, has supported Khalistani extremism and other Islamist terrorist entities, primarily “to bleed India”.

It is hardly a surprising allegation. Pakistan frankly is a state that has adeptly proven itself quite proficient at literally bleeding others — and Canadian citizens have been amongst the victims who have bled at the hands of Pakistani enabled terrorism.

The regime’s strategic penchant as an accelerant of extremism and violence is therefore a threat to all sides of the Khalistani equation, and Pakistan should be given no place in this debate. That being said, Canada has very good reason to give the Pakistani regime a prominent place on Canada’s list of state sponsors of terrorism with all the ignominy entailed in such a listing. Pakistan is already listed on the FATF’s “grey list” for concerns over terrorism financing, and Milewski’s report should provide further impetus for Canada to add Pakistan to Iran and Syria, on its list of states that utilize the scourge of terrorism as a preferred form of statecraft.

Daniel Eisen is founder of the Canadian Coalition Against Terrorism.


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