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The Khalistan terror threat is all too real

In a hyper-connected global order, extremist ideologies have no borders. This fact has found an echo in Canada’s latest, albeit late, acknowledgement of Khalistan extremism as a terror threat on its soil. The Canadian government has listed it as “a matter of concern” in the 2018 Public Report on the Terrorism Threat to Canada”, tabled by the country’s public safety minister, Ralph Goodale.

The report, while hyphenating Khalistani extremism with Sunni and Shia threats, lays down the broad outlines of the country’s national strategy for countering radicalisation. From India’s standpoint, the Canadian recognition is a positive augury. It validates New Delhi’s frequently flagged concerns about the Justin Trudeau government’s soft-pedalling on the pro-Khalistan lobby that spews venom against India and supports a violent insurrection for a separate Sikh state in India. Earlier this year, India’s former high commissioner in Canada, Vishnu Prakash, underscored the country’s exasperation, saying, “ unfortunately, Canada is the only country in the world which is providing a platform, or is seen to be providing a platform, to the Khalistani elements”.

Khalistani extremism in Canada dates back to the post-1984 Operation Bluestar period. In 1985, Canada-based Sikh extremist outfit, Babbar Khalsa, plotted and executed the mid-air bombing of an Air India flight, the deadliest terrorist attack in the history of aviation until the 9/11 horror. The Sikh expatriates’ support for the Khalistanis has since ebbed with only a tiny section still espousing the cause. One of the major factors was a clampdown by successive Canadian governments.

Worryingly for India, however, there has been a marked resurgence of Khalistani radicalism in Canada since 2013 when the Liberal Party came to power. This new threat has been fuelled and funded by gurdwaras patronised by Canadian politicians keen to win over the support of the Sikh diaspora , an increasingly influential vote bank in Canada. Last year, many gurdwaras, controlled by pro-Khalistan elements, banned the entry of Indian diplomats.

This has put a strain on Indo-Canada ties as was evident from a diplomatic cold shoulder to Trudeau during his official trip to India last year. Punjab chief minister, Amarinder Singh, had shared with him a list of 10 Canada-based people accused of promoting terror activities in the border state. Terming Khalistani extremism as a terror threat is a signal that Canada has finally woken up to India’s sensitivities. It appears to be part of the Trudeau dispensation’s course correction to put bilateral ties back on track.

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