At 5 feet 9 inches, Gurupatwant Singh Pannun is hardly tall by Punjabi standards. Nor does he have any stature in Punjab— the people there, including Sikh hardliners, rejected his call for a Khalistan referendum in 2020. He drew attention when he stood on a Canadian street threatening all and sundry during the G20 summit in New Delhi in September.
Pannum, 55, was not a recognizable face anywhere until a few years ago. In the late 1990s, his parents found his name on a proclaimed criminal offenders list, and the law graduate from Punjab university was packed off to US to pursue a master’s in law in New York.
In the US, he found support of a criminal—terror nexus that stretched beyond New York and Washington and into Canada. As per National Investigation Agency records, his rise as terror ideologue came about during his travels from the Empire State Building in New York, where he runs a law firm on the 59th floor, to the streets of Surrey and Ottawa. India declared him a terrorist in 2020.
Pannun has allegedly been building a pro-Khalistan network using dual passports to remain safe. He has chanted separatist slogans and incited attacks on Indian consulates in Canada and US, desecrating the Indian flag.
Top security brass in New Delhi and Punjab, who have been tracking his trajectory for two decades, are frustrated and upset. They had sent piles of intelligence records, technical evidence, recordings and call intercepted to US and Canadian security agencies. These lay unattended by the Canadian officials and crisis blew up with India accusing Canada of harbouring terrorists.
The outcome was nasty. It has led to western and Indian intelligence agencies accusing each other, and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau claiming that Indian agencies were possibly involved in the killing of a Canadian citizen, Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a leader of the Khalistan Tiger Force. India has slammed the allegation as absurd. India and Canada expelled a diplomat each, and US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan expressed concern. Latest is that Indian foreign ministry has asked Canada to withdraw 41 diplomats from its mission in Delhi.
The closed roads outside the Indian diplomatic missions in San Francisco, Ottawa, Vancouver and Toronto reflect the terror created by the pro-Khalistan network run by Pannun and his banned outfit, the Sikhs for Justice. Intelligence reports say Pannun was in touch with Nijjar(till he was alive) as well as UK-based terrorist, Paramjit Singh alias Pamma of the Babbar Khalsa Inter-national, and Malkit Singh Fauji of International Sikh Youth Federation.
“Canadian authorities have underestimated the Indian concern and overestimated freedom of speech”, said Jonathan Berkshire Miller, national security and defense at the Macdonald—Laurier Institute in Ottawa. “The threat from pro-Khalistan extremist has been a worry for India since 1985 Air India bombing. So it is not just under the watch of the Trudeau government, but concerns have been raised earlier with Canadian authorities at the highest level, including with the Canadian authorities and Royal Canadian Mounted Police. They should have paid more attention”.
Said Yashovardhan Azad, former special director in the Intelligence Bureau: “The dark reality is Khalistani separatism is being run from foreign shores. A transnational terror-criminal network is openly threatening the integrity of the Indian state, besides indulging in terror targeted killings and extortions in Punjab”. (IPA Service)