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6 December 2018, Gateway House


The recent opening of the Kartarpur corridor in Punjab and the release of a Canadian parliamentary report on the security breach during Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s India visit are important developments. They present a good opportunity for New Delhi to step up cooperation with Ottawa on countering terrorism and violent extremism

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Click here to read a previous article on the India-Canada bilateral.

The report of the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians (NSICOP) of Canada, on the security breach allegations associated with prime minister Justin Trudeau’s visit to India in February 2018, has vindicated India’s position that it was not involved with the inclusion of former Khalistani terrorist Jaspal Atwal in the reception for the Canadian PM in Mumbai on February 20.

This is a good time for India to press for expanding the security cooperation with Canada. This was part of the joint statement made by PMs Modi and Trudeau where the two agreed to broaden the counter-terrorism cooperation through a “Framework for Cooperation on Countering Terrorism and Violent Extremism”– and tack on the activities of Sikh extremists in Canada. At the G2G level, the re-activated counter-terrorism working group, institutionalisation of the annual National Security Advisors-level dialogue and regular convening of the foreign minister-level Strategic Dialogue, will go a long way in creating a thaw in the bilateral, frozen for two years on the Khalistan issue.

During the October 30 India-Canada Track 1.5 Dialogue in Ottawa, security was top of the agenda for India. The Indian delegation built on the joint statement of February, recommending:

  • immediate activation of the bilateral framework for counter-terrorism cooperation;
  • the visit of the Indian home minister to Canada – with adequate security which will show Canada’s control over its own homeland security;
  • a dialogue between the leaders of the two ruling political parties, the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Liberal Party, to create political understanding on the Punjab/Khalistan issue;
  • strengthening of parliamentary ties and those of the India-Canada caucuses within each parliament, with regular exchanges and visits; and
  • crafting of a coherent media strategy to counter Canadian state and local misinformation on the ban on the entry of Indian diplomats in Ontario gurdwaras, and the portrayal of the 1984 riots as an ‘Indian genocide’.

The release of the NSICOP report is coincident with two important decisions for the Sikh community in India. One is the November 26 laying in Mann of the foundation stone of the long-delayed Kartarpur corridor between the Gurdwara Darbar Sahib Kartarpur in Pakistani Punjab, and the Dera Baba Nanak Sahib in Gurdaspur in Indian Punjab.[1]

The second is the recent conviction of 82 accused for the 1984 anti-Sikh riots in New Delhi. This shows that after years of delay, finally the Sikh community will see some justice against the perpetrators of the riots, thereby puncturing the distorted narrative of the Khalistani extremists, that 1984 is the reason to have a separate Sikh nation. It is well known that the Khalistani movement predates 1984.

But it is the Kartarpur corridor that is now of immediate and critical importance to both India and Canada, and for several reasons:

  • For years, the network of Sikh extremists active in Canada, the U.S. and Europe, has been connecting with Pakistan-based Sikh militant leaders, antagonistic to India. Recruiting from among vulnerable Sikh pilgrims, travelling from India to Kartarpur and other gurdwaras in Pakistan, has been central to their efforts.
  • Historically, physical trans-national corridors to places of worship have often resulted in indoctrination and disaffection amongst pilgrims and subsequent radicalisation and terrorism. Since colonial times, the Hajj pilgrims from India were closely monitored by British Raj security personnel because of the active indoctrination that took place during Ottoman rule as recently as the 1920s. Kartarpur will surely be viewed as a similar opportunity by the extremists, with funding from Canada.
  • The Kartarpur corridor on the Pakistani side, will involve construction of a 3 km crossing over the braided Ravi river. This is the closest infrastructure project to the Indian border –and therefore sensitive. China is already constructing bridges over other parts of the Ravi, as part of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC); this can easily become an extended CPEC project, intensifying Indian concerns about China’s easy access to India through Pakistan.

It is vital now for India and Canada to step up their security cooperation and related political understanding on Sikh extremism. What is currently a bilateral issue, if not addressed, will begin to have trans-national implications. This is in nobody’s interest. India, the central player in this scenario, should boldly leverage the Kartarpur corridor to bring Canada expeditiously into the violent extremism dialogue; merge its concerns on China with those of Canada; and seize the narrative by offering to construct the entire Kartarpur infrastructure corridor as a bilateral grant project, along with the Asian Development Bank, which is already working on  rejuvenating the Ravi river in Pakistan.

Manjeet Kripalani is Executive Director, Gateway House.

Sameer Patil is Director, Center for International Security and Fellow, National Security Studies, Gateway House.

Sifra Lentin is Bombay History Fellow at Gateway House.

Chaitanya Giri is Fellow, Space and Ocean Studies, Gateway House.

Rajiv Bhatia is Distinguished Fellow, Foreign Policy Studies, Gateway House

Click here to read a previous article on the India-Canada bilateral.

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[1] The scheduled date of completion of the corridor – 1 November 2019 – is just in time for the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism. Guru Nanak founded the first Sikh commune in Kartarpur and lived here till his death in 1539.

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