Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a Canadian-based Khalistani commander and the ‘head’ of the outlawed Khalistan Tiger Force (KTF), was fatally shot by two unidentified youngsters outside the Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara in Surrey, British Columbia, on June 18, 2023, at 8:27 p.m. local time.
Avtar Singh Khanda, ‘leader’ of the outlawed Khalistan Liberation Force (KLF) and a radical mobilizer and activist, passed away on June 15, 2023, at 12:45 IST at a hospital in Birmingham, the United Kingdom (UK), according to early reports. It was believed that he had cancer.
On May 6, 2023, unknown assailants shot and killed Paramjit Singh Panjwar, alias Malik Sardar Singh, a wanted Khalistani terrorist and the “chief” of the Khalistan Commando Force (KCF), in Lahore, Pakistan’s Punjab Province. When the attackers opened fire on Panjwar and his guard at a park at Sun Flower Housing Society in Lahore’s Jauhar Town, they fled on a motorbike. Additionally harmed, his guard subsequently died away that day.
Three sudden deaths of Khalistani leaders outside of India, including two that were clearly murders and one that is under investigation, have sparked intense speculation about possible covert operations by R&AW, India’s foreign intelligence agency. They have also sparked a wave of vindictive triumphalism among Hindu nationalists on social media. The majority of the comments lacks context, and its tone and substance are completely determined by the opinions and allegiances of the “analysts.”
While the deaths of three Khalistani extremists in widely separated foreign locations over the course of only 45 days are undoubtedly shocking and may warrant close examination, they do fit into a larger context of criminal alliances and activities that have historically seen numerous incidents of violence, including fatal violence. Although it is impossible to completely rule out the potential of covert operations by state agencies, the quick development of capacity and purpose, as well as its abrupt operationalization in some instances, would not match the profile of any reputable intelligence organization.
It is important to first distinguish Avtar Singh Khanda’s death from the two evident murders. While a number of improbable theories have been put forth to support imagined conspiracies of Khanda’s “poisoning” by R&AW, including some that remind of the poisoning of Russian dissidents abroad by radioactive or nerve agents, the claims have little validity outside of a Khalistani sub-culture desperate to find new “martyrs” for the cause. In addition, while Khanda comes from a long line of terrorists—his father, Kulwant Singh Kukhrana, was a KLF terrorist killed by security forces in 1991, and his mother was related to Gurjant Singh Budhsinghwala, the KLF ‘chief’ killed in 1992—his own involvement in activities that could be considered to be terrorism under the strictest definition is, at best, questionable. Although Indian state agencies have recently tended to use the term “terrorist” a bit loosely, Khanda is facing serious accusations related to a “violent” protest organized at the Indian High Commission in London on March 19, 2023 (during which the Indian flag was torn down but no one was hurt). Khanda is also accused of supporting Amritpal Singh, another shady “terrorist” in the new Indian lexicon.
Between August 2022 and March 2023, Amritpal Singh participated in extensive and often disruptive Khalistani mobilization in Punjab. He was ultimately apprehended on April 23 and is being detained in Dibrugarh, Assam, in northeastern India. Importantly, sources state that Khanda had spent two weeks in the hospital receiving treatment for a (as of yet unnamed) “blood cancer.” Significantly, an early Tweet from the Sikh Federation UK (a Khalistani advocacy group) confirmed that he passed away after being diagnosed with “blood cancer,” but the Khalistani Diaspora quickly exploited the death’s potential for propaganda, especially in the wake of the Nijjar killing in Canada three days later, to stir up a flurry of claims of Indian state mischief. As long as there is still an open inquiry into the death, provocative rumors will continue to circulate until the coroner’s inquest report ultimately resolves the matter, which might take weeks or even six months.
The last two deaths are now left. The recent high-profile murders and assassinations of Khalistani activists or terrorists overseas are by no means the first. For instance, Harvinder Singh nicknamed Rinda, a renowned operational commander of the Babbar Khalsa International (BKI) stationed in Pakistan, passed away on November 19, 2022, apparently from a heroin overdose, at a military hospital in Lahore. On May 9, 2022, Rinda was one of the foreign-based “masterminds” of the RPG assault on the Punjab Police Intelligence Headquarters in Mohali, Punjab. The event has also been connected to a number of international criminals, most notably Yadwinder Singh in the Philippines, Satbir Singh in Greece, and Lakhbir Singh alias Landa in Canada.
The Mohali RPG assault demonstrated both the growing prevalence of transnational Khalistani gangster networks and the intense engagement of Khalistani terrorists and activists in a variety of other criminal endeavors. Rinda played a significant role in the flow of narcotics and weapons from Pakistan into India.
Harmeet Singh alias “Happy PhD,” another guns and drug dealer, and the KLF’s then-chief were assassinated on January 27, 2020, in the Dera Chahal Gurdwara outside of Lahore, reportedly after a money dispute involving narcotics sales with another neighborhood gang. According to Indian Police sources, Harmeet Singh was associated with a string of murders that took place in Indian Punjab between 2016 and 2017 and left a significant mark on the Khalistan-gangster networks outside.
The murder of Paramjit Singh Panjwar has to be evaluated within the murky context of the Khalistani-narcotics-gangs network, which is supported and largely controlled by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). Panjwar actively participated in the smuggling of heroin, firearms, and Fake Indian Currency Notes (FICN) from Pakistan, all while trying to fund the KCF with the proceeds. However, as younger and more aggressive players entered the picture, his importance as a terrorist and trafficking facilitator had gradually decreased. In Pakistan, where Panjwar’s existence is not even recognised and his murder was reported as the killing of “Malik Sardar Singh,” the name he had been given by the ISI, there is still no consensus on who killed Panjwar, and the matter is unlikely to be “solved” there. Panjwar, however, would not be a very high priority target for Indian services if they started making “hit lists” in Pakistan since there are other far more active Islamist and Khalistani terrorists operating from that nation.
However, Nijjar has undoubtedly been a top worry for India over Khalistani groups in the Western Diaspora. He is charged with the murder of a self-styled godman named Baba Bhaniara in 2014, the murder of Dera Sacha Sauda adherent Manohar Lal in 2021, the attempted murder of a Hindu priest named Pragya Gyan Muni in 2021, as well as numerous other plots to assassinate both followers of the Dera Sacha Sauda and members of the Hindu community. Additionally, according to Indian intelligence, Nijjar ran a terrorist training facility in Canada in 2015. One of the graduates, Mandeep Singh Dhaliwal, was later dispatched there to attack Shiv Sena officials; Dhaliwal was apprehended in June 2016.
Nijjar teamed up with criminal Arshdeep Singh alias Arsh Dalla to provide the logistics and labor for numerous of these operations in Indian Punjab since he was having little success on the ground there. Dalla is now included on the National Investigation Agency of India’s wanted list of Khalistani terrorists overseas.
Nijjar was also active in the Sikhs for Justice ‘Khalistan Referendum’ movement, and on September 19, 2022, he organized its most successful rally in Brampton.
Importantly, Nijjar has long been linked to Canada’s violent Gurudwara politics. Additionally, he was involved in a protracted argument with Ripudaman Singh Malik, the main planner of the 1985 IC 182 Kanishka Bombing, which claimed the lives of 329 people (as well as two baggage handlers in a second explosion at Narita Airport, Japan). Malik had printed and distributed copies of the Guru Granth Sahib, which Nijjar disapproved of, and he had confiscated both these copies and Malik’s printing facility. Malik started denouncing “anti-India elements” after being “turned” by Indian intelligence services, and he said that Nijjar was “obviously working at the behest of some agencies of a foreign government” (referring to Pakistan), in which case. On January 23, 2022, Nijjar yelled at Malik for almost an hour at the Guru Nanak Sikh Temple in Surrey, calling him a “agent” and a “Qaum da gaddaar” (traitor to the country), and saying that he had to be “taught a lesson.” On June 22, 2022, two men assassinated Malik in a gang-style attack that eerily resembled Nijjar’s eventual murder. Similar to the Ripudaman Singh Malik hit, investigations into the death of Nijjar are likely to come to a halt.
Jody Thomas, Canada’s national security advisor to the prime minister, made a statement on June 5, 2023, blaming India for “foreign interference in Canada.” This is an odd inversion of reality because it is from Canada that a persistent separatist campaign is being fueled by and funded by Canadian citizens and permanent residents of Indian origin, and where extremists openly flaunt their affiliatio
The Khalistani Diaspora has chosen a dangerous road by cooperating with criminals engaged in a variety of criminal enterprises in their country of origin, including drug trafficking, gun running, targeted assassinations, and extortion. The Punjabi gangster culture is particularly prevalent in Canada. Only 2% of Canadians identify as Punjabi (1.4% as Sikh), despite 21% of criminals slain in gang battles or police operations since 2006 being of Punjabi descent. A poster “identifying 11 individuals who pose a significant threat to public safety due to their ongoing involvement in gang conflicts and connection to extreme levels of violence” was issued by the Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit – British Columbia on August 4, 2022. Of the 11 gangsters named, nine were Punjabi. Fratricidal fights among the Punjabi gangs account for a large portion of the current gang violence. In the past, the Punjabi gangs battled the Asian Triad and the Italian-Canadian Mafia. Today, they dominate organized criminal activities in the nation.
However, there are far more plausible explanations within the vicious politics and criminal organizations of the Khalistani Diaspora than in the claims that India’s agencies are currently ‘bumping off’ relatively low-level targets abroad, even as far more active and dangerous elements are allowed to flourish. This is true even though no possibility can be ruled out in the investigations into the Panjwar and Nijjar killings, as well as Khanda’s death.