WASHINGTON: US authorities have thwarted a plot to kill New York-based Sikh leader and lawyer Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, the Financial Times (FT) reported on Wednesday.

The alleged plot aimed at Pannun, a key figure associated with Sikhs for Justice — a group linked to the movement for a separate Sikh state — has prompted a diplomatic warning from Washington. According to the report, US federal prosecutors have filed a sealed indictment against at least one suspect in a New York district court.

Mr Pannun, the general counsel of Sikhs for Justice, has been a vocal advocate for the Khalistan movement. The Indian government has designated Pannun a wanted terrorist due to his association with the Khalistan movement.

The alleged plot against his life brings into focus the heightened tensions surrounding the Khalistan movement and its perceived threat to India’s national security. The FT report suggests that in addition to the sealed indictment, US authorities issued a diplomatic warning to India, expressing concerns over potential involvement by the Indian government in the alleged plot.

The Intercept points to RAW role in planning murders of Sikh, Kashmiri activists abroad

This warning, according to the FT, was communicated to a “wider group of allies” following Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s statement linking Indian spies to the June 18 murder of a Sikh separatist leader in Vancouver.

The circumstances surrounding the thwarting of the alleged plot, however, remain unclear. The report raises questions about whether the plot was actively foiled by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) or if it was abandoned following diplomatic interventions.

The exact nature of Washington’s role in preventing the threat to Pannun’s life is yet to be fully disclosed.

The reported incident comes two months after Canada made similar allegations, asserting credible links between Indian agents and the murder of another Sikh separatist leader, Hardeep Singh Nijjar, in British Columbia.

The diplomatic fallout from these accusations resulted in a lengthy dispute between India and Canada, and their relations remain strained despite recent efforts to ease tensions.

Pannun responded to the reported threat by stating that he trusts the Biden administration to handle any challenge to America’s sovereignty.

Just a day ago, India’s National Investigation Agency filed a new case against Pannun over a video which calls for picketing at airports used by Air India.

The reported threat against Pannun occurred after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s state visit to Washington in June. The alleged plot highlights the complexities and sensitivities surrounding the Khalistan movement, leading to diplomatic tensions between the United States and India.

The role of the FBI, the outcomes of legal proceedings, and the broader implications for US-India relations remain subjects of interest as the situation unfolds.

RAW’s role

On the other hand, leaked intelligence assessments obtained by The Intercept suggest that the Indian intelligence agency, Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), has been planning the assassinations of Sikh and Kashmiri activists in foreign countries.

Documents quoted by The Intercept contained information about threats against individuals in Pakistan, indicating collaboration between RAW and local terrorist networks. According to the documents, RAW is targeting individuals supporting an armed insurgency in Kashmir and militant Sikh activists in Pakistan wanted by the Indian government.

The Intercept reported that the documents offer compelling substantiation for the claim of a transnational assassination programme by India against its political enemies. Targeting Sikh activists in Pakistan is contributing to heightened friction in India’s foreign relations.

Additionally, the documents point to the activation of Indian intelligence agents in the UAE and Afghanistan for operations in Pakistan.

Published in Dawn, November 23rd, 2023

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