It has been a given that for their geo-political ends the major powers have always kept the extremists , terrorists and separatists as their pliant tool to subserve their interests . Regime change agenda has been a favourite pastime of the Western powers even as they would accuse another superpower like Russia for intervention in their own domestic affairs that proves how sharp and well penetrated each other’s espionage and counter-surveillance tools are. Sleeper cells are also a major asset for achieving such objectives that are activated as and when required . They continue to subscribe to the ideology that “My terrorist is good and yours is bad.”
There will be no dearth of high decibel public statements from the rooftops that they are opposed to extremism and terrorism, which is lip service and hollow sympathy while occasionally they would throw some crumbs of intelligence at their so-called strategic partners with whom they might have even some alleged security cooperation. And they keep feeding, fending and nurturing the separatist and extremist elements just in case they will fit on their chess board of regime change or whenever they feel that it is time to call the shots. Well if you want to call it realpolitik – so be it.
In any case countries like India need to worry about such trends and tendencies that have been in play ever since to corner her, embarrass her and undermine her strategic autonomy. Of course, there are no permanent enemies or friends in diplomacy and international discourse but we got to choose them wisely.
The US is India’s global comprehensive strategic partner and eyes at India’s defence, economic and strategic locational pie rather greedily but wants it on their terms. The power and the tools required to destabilise countries, foreign leaders and governments, they want to monopolise or let these be kept among only a few, like that in the case of NPT –‘haves and have nots’.
It after all happens to be the game of big boys. Umpteen numbers of books have been written on the exploits of British, American, Israeli, Russian and other agencies who have almost always indulged in extra-judicial killings of their targets at will because they are considered legitimate targets since they have the potential to undermine their own interests or assets in those countries.
No regard to sovereignty is the mantra for them. Most would not even be able to connect the dots let alone respond. But don’t the others have the right to secure and defend their own national interests? Perhaps not in their ‘five eyes’. How dare you do that and question our supremacy is disdain? And others are on the receiving end yet again and thus the vicious cycle continues. Pannuns and Nijjars are the fat pawns in that toolkit as far as India is concerned.
Recently, we witnessed the alacrity with which the Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau accused Indian agencies for the murder of a wanted terrorist Nijjar without any evidence to substantiate their claims. As the things stood, there were some tips given by big brother and their Ambassador in Canada claimed the credit for sharing such leading yet unreliable and unconfirmed intel. Hastily they packed off an Indian officer who was posted in the embassy to coordinate security matters with the Canadian authorities. In the injudicious bargain they have brought the bilateral ties to its lowest and themselves ranked Canada in the list of countries like Pakistan, who harbour terrorists and enable extremists to destabilise India. Cross border terrorism is an instrument of their foreign policy.
Now comes the case of the infamous extremist, separatist and terrorist, Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, who enjoys the plush hospitality and security of both Canada and USA – being their joint citizen.
Pannun has been a threat for Indian diplomats, India’s territorial integrity and sovereignty and continues to indulge in incendiary activities and statements. Most recently on the anniversary of the terrorist-downing of the Air India ‘s Kanishka aircraft killing large numbers of Indians and Canadians – including a dear friend of mine, Pannun warned travellers to not to fly Air India which was his target yet again.
In such situations a sensible country would shut such people up and put them behind bars but since they serve a useful purpose they are facilitated and provided platforms after platforms embroiling more such converts since these professional truants and tyrants consider it a lucrative business even if woolly headed in the long run. Pannun, with the help of the US-Canada combine, thinks he is beyond reproach. Hence the alleged plot implicating some Indian official with the accused criminal Nikhil Gupta, who is waiting to be extradited from Prague for plotting the assassination of Pannun has been stitched together by the US agencies and made public by the district attorney in southern New York who just loves high profile cases and controversies.
The US leadership is stated to have raised the issue bilaterally with their counterparts in India. New Delhi has taken this nexus among criminals and cross border gangs quite seriously and has agreed to set up a high-level committee to investigate the matter. Spokesman of Ministry of External Affairs Arindam Bagchi very emphatically said that: This was not the policy of the Indian government.
But in my view we must keep all options open in the fight against terrorism like the surgical strikes post Pathankot and Pulwama. After all, the issue of security is as paramount and sacrosanct for any nation as it is for America or any other power that has the capacity to operate wherever required and has done so repeatedly. And they take great pride in these covert and overt operations. We also need not be sheepish or apologetic in this wild wide world as we continue to suffer the most from terrorism and extremism that has been supported by friends and foes alike. Double standards are the order of the day. Evidence based requests for extradition of wanted terrorists and criminals falls on their deaf ears making a mockery of the agreements signed by them with India.
They would kill Osama bin Laden while destroying the whole of Afghanistan; create a Taliban, bomb them and then hand over power back to them. They would manufacture evidence to invade Iraq to take revenge against the dictator Saddam Hussein and in turn not only destabilise the whole region but also create conditions for spawning an ISIS and empower ultra extremist groups intentionally or otherwise. It is fine to destroy Hamas whose October 7 attacks India also condemned and expressed solidarity with people of Israel but then would be selective in application of the same standards universally. What kind of a policy it is!
They are all democracies supposedly going after dictators whom they themselves sustained for far too long as a strategic tool. Non-state actors and lone wolf syndrome have become far too potent for nation states to deal with them. Hence it is imperative that sensitivities and security concerns of other countries especially major partners must be given due consideration through proactive measures ab-initio.
International solidarity is a prerequisite for which big powers have to be genuine and not geo-strategically opportunistic and selective. There should be no duality or distinction as far as weeding out terrorists and extremists is concerned. In fact, both the US and Canada should have not allowed such elements to operate from their land especially against India which is a flag bearer of the fight against terrorism. Principles of sovereignty must apply equally to all nations but unfortunately in the ‘Jungle Raaj’ only mighty call the shots and get away with it.
Anil Trigunayat is the former Indian Ambassador to Jordan, Libya, and Malta and is currently a Distinguished Fellow with Vivekananda International Foundation.
This article was first published in Firstpost on December 4, 2023 as Pannun ‘murder plot’: Why West must cease its ‘My terrorist is good and yours is bad’ approach
Disclaimer: All views expressed in the article belong solely to the author and not necessarily to the organisation.
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Acknowledgment: This article was posted by Chaitanya Deshpande, Research Intern at IMPRI.