Recently, the Financial Times published a report titled “The US Thwarted Plot to Kill Sikh Separatist on American Soil,” unveiling the conspiracy of the Indian government and its spy agencies. This plot was stopped by the US, which issued a diplomatic warning to the Indian government. During the G-20 summit, President Biden raised this matter in discussion with Prime Minister Modi.
The focus of the plot was directed towards Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, an individual holding American and Canadian citizenship. Pannun serves as the general counsel for Sikhs for Justice, a U.S.-based organization affiliated with a movement advocating for the establishment of an independent Sikh state known as “Khalistan.” The report revealed that the first US protest over the Pannun plot was issued during Modi’s official state visit. Additionally, the US informed its allies about the plot during Nijjar’s incident.
The report did not clarify whether the conspiracy was thwarted owing to the protests by the US or the involvement of the FBI that foiled the ongoing conspiracy. The severity of the issue is evident from the fact that the US not only issued a diplomatic warning but also took legal action by filing a sealed indictment against at least one individual involved in the plot. The details of the charges are not disclosed to the public at this point. Discussions are ongoing in the US Department of Justice on whether to make allegations public or wait until Canada finishes its investigation of Nijjar’s case.
India’s extra-territorial killings in the South Asian region go unnoticed, where Pakistan’s concerns are not given due consideration. As highlighted by a scholar at the Middle East Institute and a specialist on Pakistan, Arif Rafiq, “the general perception in the West about Pakistan and India is that India can do no wrong. When Pakistan accuses India of doing these types of things, they are just being paranoid, but that is not borne out by history.”
In the last two years, India has faced setbacks owing to its involvement in creating unrest in foreign territories. The death sentence to Indian naval officers in Qatar over espionage, Nijjar’s killing, and the recent disclosure of a conspiracy to assassinate Pannun substantiate the concerns raised by Pakistan regarding Indian operatives’ active involvement in a transnational assassination program of Sikh and Kashmiri activists. Leaked intelligence assessments obtained by The Intercept also point towards RAW’s involvement in the killing of Kashmiri and Sikh separatists in foreign territories.
Harinder Singh, a senior fellow at the Sikh Research Institute, also highlighted India’s involvement in extra-territorial killings in South Asia for years. The only difference is that today they have been discovered doing it in a Western democracy. He also emphasized that, “Despite many hypocrisies among Western democracies, one thing that they still do take very seriously is a foreign power taking the lives of their own citizens.” After the assassination of Nijjar, in the United States, the FBI warned a number of American Sikh militants whose lives are in danger. The Financial Times report also highlighted the US National Security Council’s concerns regarding the utmost importance of the safety and security of its citizens. India’s extra-territorial killings will not be ignored in the West, as they were in South Asia. India will have to bear the brunt of its conspiracies in the West.
Historically, there has been no instance where India has been held accountable for its actions that violate international norms and standards. Whether it’s the humanitarian crisis rampant in Indian illegally occupied Kashmir and Manipur, Modi’s role in the Gujarat Genocide proven by a BBC documentary, or its involvement in foreign territories such as East Pakistan’s disintegration, the Kulbhushan Jhadav case, Nijjar’s assassination, and the Qatar spying case, India did not face any setback in its relations with the West. This further emboldened India’s network of extra-territorial killings that has now gone global. Despite concerns raised by the US to India against Sikh separatists’ assassination plots twice, the conspiracy was thwarted by the US, and legal action was taken against those involved in the plot along with a diplomatic warning to the Indian government. This diplomatic rift between the US and India is not conducive to India’s long-term interests, as it engenders a discourse in the West questioning the nation’s reliability as a strategic partner.
Syeda Tahreem Bukhari is a Research Officer at Center for International Strategic Studies, AJK.