• 23 May, 2024
Foreign Affairs, Geopolitics & National Security

Hunting Khalistani Network And Question of Intelligence Agencies

Srijan Sharma
Thu, 29 Jun 2023   |  Reading Time: 4 minutes

Since past three months important Khalistani leaders were assassinated by unknown assailants. The incidents of killings were quite suspicious and carried out in what may be called one hit job. The Khalistan Tiger Force Hardeep Singh Nijjar was shot dead in the parking lot of gurudwara in Canada. Similarly, Paramjit Singh Panjwar, Khalistan Commando Force was shot dead by two gunmen when he was on morning walk. The third was Avtar Singh Khanda is said to be top Khalistani leader and handler of Amritpal Singh who died in the hospital but many argue that he died because of poisoning. In another interesting fourth case Harmeet Singh, another Khalistani involved in killing RSS leaders four years back was killed in gurudwara in Lahore. All these killings involved one question i.e. Is there any hand of intelligence agencies or it is result of internal fraction gone beyond red lines.

Convergence of Dots
Targeting and execution are to some extent suggestive of a clean Intelligence agency work however, it won’t swing to one end as there is not one Intel agency but two agencies in question, Indian Intel agency- R&AW and Pakistan’s Intel agency ISI. The perspective from both the Intelligence agencies can help to establish reasons to take out targeted killings of Khalistani leaders in just span of four to five months. It is well understood fact in Intel and strategic community that operation overt or covert requires well defined objective and strong direction/reasons to give green signal to operation though, the process of Intelligence cycle becomes more crucial whenever Intelligence agencies plan to carry out operations which are offensive in nature because of risk and wider scope of consequences involved.

R&AW’s Sweep Or ISI?

Ever since the capture of Amritpal the network of Khalistani became more weaker. There were hints dropped indicating a possible surge in Khalistani movement in Punjab and increase activities in abroad, if we look the timeline focusing from Amrit Pal coming to the picture and gradually attempting to strengthen its position to revive Khalistani wave dubbed under Waris De Punjab. The scenario building in Punjab and Amritpal’s dramatic rise alarmed New Delhi’s security establishments and demanded immediate action, however to much surprise, Intelligence agencies instead of reacting in spur chose to maintain strategic patience and observe the situation. This gave desired results, the dramatic operation of Punjab Police in coordination with CAPF and security establishment broke down the nerve of Amrit Pal and ISI backed Khalistani network. Most importantly, the operation was more of strategic success than the tactical because to some extent, it isolated and paralysed Amrit Pal and Khalistani network backing him. After almost months the first hit, second hit and so on, top leaders of Khalistan network which included Amrit Pal handler were assassinated. In this case, Research& Analysis Wing(R&AW) had strong reasons to put full stop to this Khalistani drama before it dangerously multiplies and turn into hardcore threat. For India, R&AW played its game in silence, B Raman, former Special Secretary R&AW records in his book Kaoboys that R&AW was quite active in tracking and killing Khalistani leaders though no specifics were discussed. To sum up, R&AW had all the right reasons to launch offensive against Khalistani network. However, Intelligence is game of deceit, eyewash and false flag. The other side of coin has its own story to tell.

ISI’s Strategic Interests and R&AW Becoming Natural Suspect

The ISI did play well in reviving Khalistani movement, pushing young recruits with no past records of fundamentalist association especially with Khalistani. This revival attempt did keep R&AW on toes in tracking Amritpal and understanding the whole situation. However, the scenario was soon cracked by maintaing strategic patience and working on collective and offensive operations. Since the ISI backed network was exposed and the poster boy Amritpal surrendered and in such scenario perhaps ISI did not want to attract more exposure and damage, therefore they(ISI) would have thought to see this grim scenario as a strategic opportunity by making a complete makeover of Khalistan network. The makeover would require shedding of the old players and induct more young and fresh recruits. The “young” factor in Khalistani network will strengthen the base and keep them away from security radar. The makeover opportunity has some strategic benefits, and perhaps this pushed ISI to clean the old version of Khalistani network and reboot it with some makeovers which can sustain for quite long time. This implies that ISI might have carried out these targeted killings of leaders to avoid more exposure and damage and further pave the way for new inductions. To sum up, targeted killing of Khalistan could also be ISI work because of two reasons:-

  • Despite a failed attempt, ISI do have chance to assess India’s security response and and do some makeovers which to some extent have chance to work as initially it worked in case of Waris De Punjab.
  • Strategic advantage of making R&AW natural suspect, ISI knew that even if ISI take out these targeted killings, then chance of suspicion over them would be almost negligible and naturally R&AW will become a suspect.

Fraction Fight and Lessons For Security Establishments

Fraction fight could also be a reason of these killings where internal fight for Akal Takht and supremacy in Khalistan organization may become few strong motivating drivers and intel agencies or gang leaders may become mere facilitator. Whatever may be the reasons or responsible actors, few things are clear that though the Khalistani threat is almost at diminished levels in India’s security landscape but not completely gone there are still actors and factors who could revive it and the lessons are must for India’ security agencies that wider scan of situation and more robust human intelligence and counter intelligence mechanism has to be developed(Integration of modern tech in Intel establishments) to effectively conduct collective activities so that any spur or revival in any organization can easily be thwarted.


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