Britain and Canada should not provide a platform for anti-India activities on their soil
A clutch of die-hard supporters of Khalistan got together in London yesterday to announce the revival of their movement. Despite the fact that the secessionist movement finds itself at the fringes of a prosperous Punjab and is seen as a embarrassment and a liability by the Sikh community in India and abroad, there is, nevertheless, a small number of individuals—mainly living outside India—that remains in denial. Given their isolation from the ground realities, these people can be ignored.
But the presence of British MPs—belonging to the ruling party, to boot—is a different matter altogether. Lord Nazir Ahmad, a member of the House of Lords spoke of the right to self-determination being the right of every nation and contended that ‘India could not suppress the Khalistan movement by force’. Khalid Mehmood, a member of the House of Commons, called for the UN to take notice of the ‘Sikh suppression’ in Punjab and seek a reply from the Indian government’. The ubiquitous Kashmiri separatists, as well as leaders of Sikh associations from Assam and Nagaland were helpfully present.
There are enough ingredients here for this to make it to Khushwant Singh’s joke book. At the very least, the two Labour politicians are taking their Sikh constituents for a ride. But the event is a symptom of a kind of tolerance of subversive activities that is most palpable in Britain and Canada. Such tolerance is justified on very lofty grounds—for these countries see themselves as bastions of liberalism and free speech. That’s laudable, of course. But it is only half the story, because they also wilfully ignore the fact that the people and groups they give refuge to are calling for, linked to, justifying or are directly responsible for violence in other countries.
Despite the tightening of laws and policies after 9/11, Britain seems to be blind to the fact that it cannot simultaneously claim to be engaged in a global war on terror and also tolerate terrorism-related activities on its own soil. By allowing separatist Kashmiri, Khalistani and pro-LTTE groups to organise and raise funds, Britain cannot escape its share of responsibility for the violence they cause. Across the pond, Canada is coming to terms with its own role in failing to prevent the 1984 bombing of the Air India plane that killed many of its own citizens. It has changed, but is still not doing quite enough to prevent pro-Khalistan (and pro-LTTE) elements from continuing their activities. [See this report from Human Rights Watch]
India must be more forceful in including this issue on the agenda while discussing counter-terrorism and intelligence co-operation with Britain, Canada and other Western countries. Britain is wrong to believe that providing a refuge for the world’s political dissidents is somehow always in its interests. India will be justified in taking a less tolerant stance towards countries that tolerate plots against its own security.