Sikh leader Gurpatwant Singh Pannun responds after India kill plot exposed on American soil

Pro-Khalistan Sikh leader and Sikhs For Justice (SFJ) General Counsel Gurpatwant Singh Pannun (centre), Indias most wanted man speaks during a protest rally. — Photo by author
Pro-Khalistan Sikh leader and Sikhs For Justice (SFJ) General Counsel Gurpatwant Singh Pannun (centre), India’s most wanted man speaks during a protest rally. — Photo by author

LONDON: Pro-Khalistan Sikh leader and Sikhs For Justice (SFJ) General Counsel Gurpatwant Singh Pannun said India has directly challenged the United States’ sovereignty and national security by plotting to kill him on American soil through its death squads.

In his first reaction after the Financial Times (FT) exposed that the US authorities, at the last minute, foiled an Indian state plot to kill the Khalistani leader on American soil, Pannun said he was not scared and will not be deterred by the Indian state’s plots against him.

Meanwhile, the US government, in a statement, said that it has taken up the issue of India’s attempts to kill Pannun “at the senior-most levels” with the Narendra Modi government.

Pannun, who is a New York-based Attorney at Law, said: “India’s transnational terrorism has become a direct challenge to the sovereignty of the United States, so I will let the US government respond to the issue of threats to my life on American soil from the Indian operatives.

“My concern is that the Sikh Community is facing existential threat at the hands of successive Indian regimes from 1984 Operation Blue Star, November 1984 Genocide, decade-long (1984-97) extra-judicial killings of Sikhs to suppress the movement for right to self-determination and now the forced suicide of farmers of Punjab.

“At this time my focus is not threats to my life but to organise American Phase of Khalistan Referendum which is scheduled to start from San Francisco, CA on January 28, 2024, under the supervision of Punjab Referendum Commission, a panel of independent experts on direct democracy.

“Believing that independence from Indian occupation and establishment of Khalistan is the only solution, Sikh sovereignists have launched the global Khalistan Referendum initiative to peacefully advance the cause of liberating the Indian-held Punjab.

“Being General Counsel of SFJ my responsibility is to organise the secessionist Khalistan Referendum for liberation of Indian-held Punjab and to follow UN Charter and domestic laws of the countries where voting is being organised to ensure compliance with the democratic norms.

“Just like Canadian Citizen Hardeep Singh Nijjar’s assassination by the Indian agents on Canadian soil was a challenge to Canada’s sovereignty, the threat to an American citizen on American soil is a challenge to America’s sovereignty, and I trust that the Biden Administration is more than capable to handle any such challenge.”

In a statement after the kill plot was exposed, the White House said it was “treating this issue with utmost seriousness”.

Adrienne Watson, the National Security Council (NSC) spokesman, said the US had raised the issue with New Delhi “at the seniormost levels”.

Watson said: “We understand the Indian govt is further investigating this issue and will have more to say about it in the coming days. We have conveyed our expectation that anyone deemed responsible should be held accountable.”

Copy of the Financial Times front page bearing Gurpatwant Singh Pannun report. — Provided by author
Copy of the Financial Times front page bearing Gurpatwant Singh Pannun report. — Provided by author

The FT revealed in a report that the US authorities have thwarted an Indian conspiracy to assassinate the pro-Khalistan leader on American soil and issued a warning to India’s government over concerns it was involved in the plot.

The intelligence people familiar with the case, who requested anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the intelligence that prompted the warning, told FT the Indian government was behind the plot to kill Pannun who has been running a worldwide campaign called Khalistan Referendum in which over 1.3 million Sikhs have voted so far.

The US sources did not tell FT whether the protest to New Delhi led the plotters to abandon their plan, or whether the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) intervened and foiled a scheme already in motion.

The US informed some allies about the plot following the murder of Nijjar, a Canadian Sikh leader killed in Vancouver in June.

In September, Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said there were “credible allegations” linking New Delhi to Nijjar’s fatal shooting. The FT said that one person familiar with the situation said the US protest was issued after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a high-profile state visit to Washington in June.

The FT revealed that separate from the diplomatic warning, US federal prosecutors have filed a sealed indictment against at least one alleged perpetrator of the plot in a New York district court, according to people familiar with the case.

The US justice department is debating whether to unseal the indictment and make the allegations public or wait until Canada finishes its investigation into Nijjar’s murder, said the paper.

Washington shared details of the Pannun case with a wider group of allies after Trudeau went public with details of the Vancouver killing, the combination of which sparked concern among allies about a possible pattern of behaviour.

The SFJ has given a call to picket Air India flights in Toronto and Vancouver on December 1. The group has announced that the American phase of the Khalistan Referendum will be launched on January 28, 2024, from San Francisco.

Several people familiar with the debate inside the Biden administration told FT officials were aware that any public disclosure of the US plot, and Washington’s protest to New Delhi, would renew questions about India’s reliability as a trusted partner, said the FT.

The FT previously reported that Biden raised the Canadian allegations with Modi at the G20 summit in India in September. The White House declined to say whether Biden raised the Pannun case with Modi in September.

US Ambassador to Canada David Cohen also said in September that Ottawa received information about the Vancouver case from the intelligence-sharing network “Five Eyes”, which comprises the US, UK, Australia, New Zealand and Canada.

Only a few months back, Nijjar — the chief coordinator of the Khalistan Referendum campaign in Canada and a close associate of Pannun — was killed on Canadian soil by Indian secret service agents. Trudeau has directly blamed India.

The 45-year-old Nijjar was fatally shot outside the main Sikh temple in Surrey, a Vancouver suburb with a significant Sikh population.

Nijjar, Pannun, UK-based Paramjeet Singh Pamma and others were designated terrorists by the Indian government in 2020.

Nijjar was also President of Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara in British Columbia – Canada’s biggest Gurdawara.

The Khalistan Referendum voting campaign is being organised under the supervision of the independent Punjab Referendum Commission (PRC) which will announce the results when all phases are completed.

The voting started on October 31, 2021, in UK’s London and has so far been held in several cities across the UK.

The voting has also been held in Switzerland’s Geneva, Italy’s Rome and Milan, Australia’s Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney; and Canada’s Brampton, Mississauga, Malton (Ontario), and Vancouver (British Columbia).

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