By Ajit Kumar Singh*
Punjab Police on April 10, 2020, registered two cases against pro-Khalistani leader Gurpatwant Singh Pannun and the banned separatist formation Sikhs for Justice (SFJ).
Varinder Pal Singh, Assistant Inspector General, State Special Operations Cell, Mohali, divulged, “Preliminary enquiries have revealed that Pannun was involved in the commission of seditious acts of advocating secession of Punjab through automated calls as well as pre-recorded audio messages to various residents of Punjab and nearby areas in March and April 2020, with the intention to foment trouble in Punjab. Since the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic in India, Pannun, his associates and his organization were found incessantly disseminating seditious contents on social media. re watching the Maoists’ movement and not allowing them to intrude and regain their hold in the State. If they arrive, we are ready to weed them out with an iron hand.”
Pannun is the legal adviser and the main face of SFJ.
It may be recalled here that the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (UMHA) through a notification dated July 10, 2019, declared the SFJ an ‘Unlawful Association’. When the SFJ opposed the ban, the Union Government on August 7, 2019, constituted a Tribunal “for the purpose of adjudicating whether or not there is sufficient cause for declaring the Sikhs For Justice (SFJ) as unlawful association”. On January 6, 2020, the Tribunal upheld the Government’s decision.
UMHA cited several activities of SFJ, including events in 2019. It noted,
SFJ launched the registration of “Team 2020”, a team of volunteers to assist during the referendum campaign, from Gurdwara Panja Sahib (Hassan Abdal, Pakistan, Apr. 14, 2019), followed by registration at Stockton, California (Apr. 14) in the US, and Surrey, British Columbia (Apr. 20), in Canada. SFJ had also offered to reimburse travelling expenses to Sikhs visiting Gurdwara Panja Sahib [Pakistan] on the occasion. It declared that it would sponsor 10,000 Sikh pilgrims from India to attend the “Khalistan 2020 Convention” to be held at Kartarpur [Pakistan] in November, 2019, coinciding with celebrations related to the 550th Birth Anniversary of Guru Nanak. From this it is evident that SFJ is encouraging and aiding the activities for secession of a part of the Indian territory from the Union of India.
On March 18, 2020, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) filed a chargesheet against nine Khalistan Zindabad Force (KZF) terrorists. The case was registered by the NIA October 10, 2019, following the arrest of four accused persons along with a consignment of arms, ammunition and explosives at the outskirts of Chohla Sahib town, Tarantaran in Punjab. Accordinf to the chargesheet, investigations had revealed that the consignments were sent from Pakistan through a total of eight drone sorties on five days in the month of August and September 2019, and were received in India by five of the accused. The consignments were sent with an ‘order’ to revive terrorism in Punjab and other states of India.
The NIA registered cases in three other incidents in 2019 in which Pakistan’s role is suspected. These cases include recovery Fake in Indian Currency Notes (FICNs) at Attari, Amritsar, on March 29; seizure of 532 kilograms of heroin at the Integrated Checkpost at the Attari-Wagah border, Amritsar on June 29; and an explosion in Tarntaran on September 4.
The NIA registered another case in 2019, on June 27, against four suspects for their involvement in planning and conspiracy of terror acts in Punjab. It, is however, not clear when the crime took place.
Pakistan’s external intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), is evidently continuing with its relentless efforts to instigate violence and social disruption in the Indian State of Punjab using separatist and terrorist formations and organized crime cartels operating out of its soil. Indeed, the sheer magnitude of the injection of drugs into the State as transformed this activity into a genocidal opium war against the population of the State.
The Parliament was informed on December 10, 2019, that according to Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) data, large quantities of drugs had been recovered from the State between 2015 and 2018. These include a total of 5,414.5 kilograms of Ganja (cannabis); 1,830.72 kilograms of Heroin; 1,669.41 kilograms of Opium; 168,420.32 kilograms of Poppy Husk and Poppy Straw; and 15,888,517 tablets of all type. SFs arrested a total of 46,909 persons in drug related cases over this period.
Despite these persistent efforts, however, the State did not record a single civilian fatality in terrorism-linked violence through 2019. This is the first year without a single fatality since 2015, when three civilian fatalities were recorded, after a long hiatus of seven years (seven civilians had died in 2007). Four civilians were killed in 2016, followed by six in 2017, and three in 2018. There have been no civilian fatalities in the current year as well (data till April 19, 2019).
While the state recorded no fatality in the Security Force category in 2019 (as in 2017 and 2018), two suspected terrorists died and another injured in the explosion in Tarntaran on September 4, 2019. The casualties took place when the victims were digging a pit to retrieve a dumped explosive consignment.
Indeed, the State Government has done well in countering the threat. Punjab Chief Minister (CM) Amarinder Singh, while raising concerns about the security threat to the border state from Pakistan, disclosed in the State Assembly, on February 26, 2020,
In three years what we have achieved through checking their (Pakistan) nefarious designs is that we have busted 32 terrorist modules propped up by them. We have arrested 154 terrorists, confiscated 41 rifles, 136 revolvers and pistols, 35 hand grenades including those used in the Nirankari Bhawan attack in Amritsar, 3.5 kg of RDX, two smart phones and Rs 30 lakhs in fake currency.
And further, on the impact of the Coronavirus lockdown,
I have been informed that the supply line of the drugs has been broken. So, heroin and all these things which were being smuggled are no longer happening. [This is] the only good thing that has come out of COVID. So, we are happy.
The Centre had identified 272 districts across the country as hugely affected by the drug menace and was planning to implement an ‘addiction-free India’ initiative to address the issue. According to the Narcotics Control Bureau, 18 out of Punjab’s 22 districts were in the grip of the drug menace.
Buoyed by the improved security situation, Dinkar Gupta, Director General of Police (DGP), Punjab, in an interview on January 1, 2020, observed, “We have been fortunate that 2019 has gone without any terror crime.” He, however, rightly cautioned,
It is difficult to say what the future holds for us, but when you are dealing with a neighbour like Pakistan, there will be attempts to foment trouble in Punjab. So, we have to be always vigilant.
Worries clearly persist. The continued targeting of right-wing Hindu nationalist leaders by Khalistani terrorists has the potential to lead to communal disharmony in the State. Two attacks have already been reported in 2020:
February 10, 2020: Honey Mahajan, the youth wing president of Shiv Sena (Hindustan), right wing Hindu nationalist party, Punjab unit, was shot at and injured by unidentified assailants in Gurdaspur. A bullet hit a fellow shopkeeper, identified as Ashok Kumar, who died on the spot.February 22, 2020: Unidentified assailants opened fire outside the Shiv Sena office on Chandigarh Road in Sector 39, Ludhiana. Shiv Sena (Hindustan) president Amit Arora and the party’s state youth president Mani Sheera were sitting inside the office.March 9, 2020: A Shiv Sena leader in Punjab, Mahant Kashmir Giri, escaped unhurt after two unidentified motorcycle-borne assailants opened fire at him at his house in Khanna in Ludhiana District.
According to sources, as many as 23 Shiv Sena leaders in Ludhiana were provided 37 gunmen following the attack on Shiv Sena (Hindustan) president Amit Arora on February 22. Police had started reviewing the security cover of the leaders following the February 10 attack on Honey Mahajan.
Reports also indicate that Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), Hizb-ul-Mujahideen (HM) and some Khalistani terrorist formations are attempting to forge new links. Dinkar Gupta, DGP Punjab, disclosed, “It is the jihadi outfits who have shared the drone capabilities with the Khalistani groups, and our understanding is that outfits like Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed have a whole inventory of these drones.”
Showing pictures of Chinese drones in the State Assembly on February 26, 2020, CM Amarinder Singh observed,
[They were] pressed by Pakistan into Punjab which was capable of carrying heavy payloads. These are the drones which we were able to catch and we do not know how many such drones are still there with people of Punjab. There are radical Sikhs in Punjab…
Meanwhile, Punjab Police has created a Special Operations Group (SOG) on the lines of the National Security Guards (NSG) to tackle any exigencies, such as suicide attacks, hostage situations, armed infiltration attempts, and to break the terrorist-gangster nexus in the prisons of Punjab. To strengthen the second line of defence, the Police has also equipped its force with thermal imagers, Border Post tractors, body protectors, micro Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV), etc. Punjab Police has also formed a separate ‘Internal Security Wing’ to specifically focus on anti-terrorism and anti-internal insurgency operations.
It is imperative for the Governments – both Union and Central – to remain alert and agile to counter and thwart every attempt by Islamabad to create turmoil in Punjab.
*Ajit Kumar Singh
Research Fellow, Institute for Conflict Management