Gurpatwant Singh Pannun Kill Plot: Ploy To Put India On Backfoot?

Gurpatwant Singh Pannun Kill Plot: Ploy To Put India On Backfoot?

The security structure operates not so much under the External Affairs Minister as the National Security Adviser. The question is: will New Delhi be sufficiently deterred?

V SudarshanUpdated: Thursday, November 23, 2023, 05:43 PM IST
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Founder of banned outfit - Sikhs for Justice (SFJ) - and India designated terrorist Gurpatwant Singh Pannun | Twitter

In what seems to be another instance of diplomacy by leaks, calculated to pressure New Delhi to roll back on its aggressive posture on the so-called Khalistani threats to New Delhi, the Financial Times of London has reported that American authorities have "thwarted a consipracy to assasinate" Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, general counsel for Sikhs For Justice, "on American soil."

As per the FT, "The people familiar with the case, who re-quested anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the intelligence that prompted the warning, did not say whether the protest to New Delhi led the plotters to abandon their plan, or whether the FBI intervened and foiled a scheme already in motion."

Pannun is a staunch advocate of Khalistan

Pannun, who is a voiceferous advocate for a separate Khalistan, is dual citizen of US and Canada. The FT report comes days after Foreign Secretary Jaishankarmet his new UK counterpart David Cameron in London, a meeting that was timed to co-incide with the online G 20summit that Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was to attend. Trudeau has repeatedly called for accountability from Indian security agencies and wants"changes made in the way Indian intelligence services operate." He is on record saying if it were left to him he would like to see "a number of people thrown in jail."

"The FT did not make it clear at what stage of theconsipracy the plot was thwarted, whether in planning or execution. Neither did it make clear when andwhere the action took place.It is presumable the information originates with the Federal Bureau of Investigation.What the FT reveals is that the plot was revealed to some of America's allies following the murder of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, leader of the Khalistan Tiger Force this June in Surrey, British Columbia.Nijjar's son has said that his father had been intouch with Canadian intelligence before he was killed. It is not immediately clear whether the"allies" being referred here is limited to the Five Eyes – US, UK, Canada, New Zealand, Australia or whether it refers to the wider allied grouping - Nine Eyes that includes other European nations such as France, Netherland, Denmark, Norway, or Fourteen Eyes – including Belgium, Italy, Germay,Spain, Sweden.

Significantly, most of these nations have large Sikh diaspora; what applies toCanada and UK could apply equally to these nations.June incidentally was when Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the United States and addressed the Congress as well. The FT citing"one person familiar with the situation" says that the Americans protested to New Delhi after the prime ministerial visit.In addition to the diplomatic rebuke, American federal prosecutors filed a sealed indictment against "at least one of the alleged perpetrators ofthe plot in a New York district court."

Possibility of more than one person involved in the plot

This is an indication that more than one person were involved in the Pannun kill plot as well.The FT further says that the US Justice Department is debating "whether to unseal the indictment and make the allegations public or wait until Canada finishes its investigation into Nijjar's murder." For those late on this story,Canada's investigation depends on India's co-operation. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has already declared - after President Joe Biden and the Canadian premier brought up the matterwith Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the G 20summit - that America wants "to see accountability and its important that the investigation runs its course and leads to that result."

US national Security Adviser Jake Sullivan has also put across similar sentiments, equally strongly saying that he wanted to ensure that the law enforcement processes got to the "bottom of what exactly happened and to ensure that the perpetrators are held accountable."The perpetrators, according to intelligence shared by the Americans with Canada and their "Five Eyes" allies – both human intelligence and technical intelligence – point to New Delhi's involvement. India has so far rejected these charges as "absurd."

Person charged in indictment left the US

According to the FT "further complicating the case, one of the person charged in the indictment is believed to have left the US". If the details were to be made public New Delhi could be further hard put to maintain a stout denial posture.The target of the leaks seems not so much the Ministry of External Affairs which does not run intelligence operatives abroad, although diplomatic cover is provided. It is the Research and Analyses Bureau and the Intelligence Bureau which collect intelligence and act on it. The security structure operates not so much under the External Affairs Minister as the National Security Adviser. The question is: will New Delhi be sufficiently deterred?

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