Punjab Militancy: Remnants Reviving or Loosing Ground?

Nihar Nayak

The arrest of three Babbar Khalsa militants on July 17 near Madhopur Chowk in Fatehgarh Sahab district of Punjab, along with assault rifles and explosives have not only underscored the outfit’s weakening stature in Punjab, but also show a trend of desperation within the residual Babbar Khalsa International (BKI) elements who either are attempting to come over ground or to flee the country. Arguably, it is due to constant international pressure on Pakistan and its intelligence agency ISI, border fencing, deployment of Special Forces in Indo-Pak borders particularly in Rajasthan, Gujarat and Punjab, strict vigil at Indo-Nepal check posts, and choking of arms and drug routes, has forced the left out Punjab militants to reconsider their decision to execute ISI instructions.

In the last seven months a total of 35 alleged BKI members have been arrested, including four women cadres. The three BKI militants Jagtar Singh Hawara, Jagtar Singh Tara and Paramjit Singh Beora, who were facing trial for killing the former Chief Minister of Punjab, Beant Singh, had escaped from the high security Burail jail on January 25, 2005 and reportedly fled to Pakistan. Reports too indicated that 13 of the 18 ‘wanted’ Punjab militants, who had escaped in separate incidents, have crossed the border to find refuge in other countries, including Pakistan. Moreover, a Punjab police report said the crime rate had come down by 11 percent with 25,626 cases being registered under the Indian Penal Code (IPC) in 2004 compared to 28,756 cases in 2003. The report also said no remnants of Sikh terrorism were there in Punjab. Even support to the separate Sikh state of Khalistan has waned from abroad as people found it was aimless.

The BKI, which traced its origin to the Babbar Akali Movement of 1920, was believed to have assumed its present form after the Baisakhi 1978-clashes between the Akhand Kirtani Jatha and Nirankaris. Subsequently the BKI started targeting sympathizers of the Nirankaris during 1980s. With the objective of establishing a Sovereign Khalistan state in the present Punjab province in India, the first unit of the BKI was founded in Canada in 1981 under the leadership of Talwinder Singh Parmar and Sukhdev Singh Babbar. However, Talwinder Parmar formed the Babbar Khalsa (Parmar) faction in 1992, after splitting from the BKI.

After the terrorist-secessionist movement for Khalistan was comprehensively defeated in 1993, terrorist outfits of various shades used very low intensity firearms because of limited resources and firepower. Except one bomb blast in which two persons were killed and 11 others injured on January 3, 2002 no other major terrorist-related incident was reported from any part of the State in subsequent years. Even, the Legislative Assembly elections were held peacefully in February 2002.

Although the radical Sikh leaders announced that they would endeavor to achieve separate Sikh nation through democratic and peaceful means, available information suggests many left out elements were engaged in criminal activities like, kidnapping, contract killings and drug peddling. There has been also a qualitative shift in the strategy of Punjab militants in view of their shrinking base and very limited resources. The killings of two Punjab militants-turned-criminals, Jagtar Singh Jagga and Parminder Singh Ranga of Punjab and Rajasthan respectively, in north Delhi in late April 2004 have solved many cases of extortion in Delhi and Haryana. This was not an isolated case where the dreaded Militants have turned to petty crimes to survive and sustain the so called movement. Even the leaders of the Khalistan Liberation Front (KLF) and the BKI had tied up with Uttar Pradesh-based mafia dons to carry out kidnappings in order to raise funds for Khalistan Movement. The present leader Jagtar Singh Hawara after escaping from the Burail jail was busy in human trafficking and other petty criminal activities. For about 18 months Hawara kept on organizing militant activities in north India. He was also involved in the May 22 twin bomb blasts in cinema halls in Delhi. Hawara was arrested on June 8 in the capital while collecting money from a Hawala operator on his way to Nepal. He had also maintained contact with members of the organization in Germany.

Interrogation reports of the arrested cadres indicate that Punjab militants are under constant pressure from the ISI to produce results and revive terrorism in the State. Despite lack of public support to militancy, periodic efforts are made by terrorist coordinators within the country and abroad to rope in their old associates and those released from jails and family members of slain militants. Apart from BKI, other Khalistan militant outfits like ISYF-Rode with Kama Ghata Maru Dal of Harmit Bhakna, a Germany based terrorist outfit, Khalistan Zindabad Force (KZF), headed by Ranjit Singh Neeta, Khalistan Commando Force (KCF) - Panjar, Khalistan Liberation Force (KLF) and Dal Khalsa International (DKI), have been making effort to revive militancy in the State. Further, the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) has been making efforts during the last couple of years to create bases in Ludhiana, Jalandhar, and Pathaankot and Udhampur areas in Jammu and Kashmir. There are reports that the Punjab militants have so far maintained close association with the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen, Al Burq and Jammu Kashmir Islamic Front (JKIF).

Presently, the BKI is more or less active in the USA, Canada and the UK along with other European countries like Germany, France, Belgium, Norway, Switzerland and neighboring Pakistan. It seems the Punjab conflict was managed properly, but the resolution part of the conflict has been neglected since 1993. As a result, residual militants are either making their own arrangement to lead normal life or wooed by the sinister ISI designs and J& K based outfits. Now the onus is on the government to plan out how to tackle the situation, before it goes out of hand

Author Note
Dr. Nihar Nayak is Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management, New Delhi