WASHINGTON: Aghast at the role of pro-Khalistan elements in the launch of a Sikh Congressional Caucus last week, the Indian government has cautioned the Obama administration and US lawmakers who joined the group against helping revive what was a violent separatist affair that has largely faded away.
Indian officials have been briefing US lawmakers about the almost-defunct movement and its bloody history after discovering that the principal movers of the Sikh caucus were Khalistani activists trying to revive separatist sentiments. The Indian effort to sensitize lawmakers to New Delhi’s concerns began even before the launch of the caucus, but much to the Indian embassy’s surprise and dismay, pro-Khalistani Sikhs succeeded in getting the caucus off the ground. In the process, they are said to have sidelined mainstream nationalist Sikhs.
Some 30 US lawmakers, many of them first time legislators not aware of the violent history and background of the Khalistan issue, have signed up for the Sikh Caucus, which is believed to the first ethnic and religion-based caucus on the Hill. But what has distressed New Delhi is that signatories include veteran lawmakers such as Frank Pallone, a New Jersey democrat who has been a long-time friend of India and a leading member of the India Caucus.
Indian officials surmise that Pallone and many others have been misled by the separatists into believing that they were backing a besieged group that was fighting ethnic profiling and racial discrimination, particularly after the Oak Creek shooting in Wisconsin in which a white supremacist killed six people in a Sikh Gurdwara. American Sikhs have also been fighting employment bias and discrimination in military against turbaned enlisters.
While Indian officials acknowledge that many of the Sikh grievances are legitimate, they say the issues are being used as a cover for potentially reinvigorating the Khalistan movement. Although no mention was made of Khalistan at the launch of the caucus, some prime movers behind the caucus did not hide their pro-Khalistani affiliation.
Indian officials are cautioning their US counterparts of such murky associations, particularly in the context of the Boston bombing in which Chechen separatist sympathisers who were seemingly integrated into American society, carried out terrorist attacks inside the US. They are concerned that unbridled Khalistani activism in the U.S could come to haunt New Delhi later on. While many of the Sikh grievances are real and deserve attention, the Indian government, currently headed by a Sikh, seems to believe these are best lobbied by the India caucus rather than a separate ethno-religious caucus.
What set alarm bells ringing was the discovery that one of the principal movers of the Sikh caucus is an associate of Khalid Awan, a Pakistan-Canadian who has been convicted for providing material support and resources to the Khalistan Commando Force (KCF) and related terrorism charges and is serving time in a U.S prison. The same principal was also involved in a bank robbery in Ludhiana.
In a little-reported trial of Awan, the US government offered recordings of his prison telephone calls to Paramjit Singh Panjwar in Pakistan, in which Awan spoke of recruiting new members for the KCF and admitted having had sent hundreds of thousands of dollars to KCF in the past. A US district court later determined that Awan’s crimes were “intended to promote federal crimes of terrorism,” and imposed on him a sentence of 14 years’ imprisonment, which he is serving in Terra Haute, Indiana.
The Indian alert is believed to have had a salutary effect on at least one lawmaker, Indian-American Congressman Ami Bera, who is said to have backed out of joining the caucus. Bera’s 7th Congressional district in California surrounding Sacramento has a large Sikh population, and word among Sikh activists initially was that he would sign up. Indian officials believe many other lawmakers have joined the caucus for similar reasons in a state where there are many wealthy Sikhs, only some of who still suffer from the Khalistan hangover.
Source: The Economic Times