Ominous signs: On attacks by pro-Khalistan elements on Indian interests

India must calibrate its public diplomacy on Khalistan issue to better effect 

July 08, 2023 12:20 am | Updated 08:07 am IST

Ahead of planned rallies by pro-Khalistan separatists in the U.S., the U.K., Canada and Australia on July 8 that target Indian diplomatic missions and diplomats, the Indian government has taken steps to speak to officials in these countries for added security and vigilance. The issue was raised by National Security Adviser Ajit Doval in talks with his British counterpart in Delhi on Friday, and was the subject of calls between the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) and its counterparts in all partner countries, requesting pre-emptory action. Posters in these countries have billed the protests as “Kill India” and “Khalistan Freedom” rallies, exhorting supporters to march to Indian missions. What is worrying is that the posters sport the photographs of India’s top diplomats posted in these countries. The protests — after the attacks on Indian missions, arson attempts and vandalism — indicate a sharp uptick in separatist activity overseas and have left New Delhi concerned. However, they should be of far greater concern to the countries incubating these groups, as they involve their citizens. The rallies planned for Saturday put the respective governments on notice — to ensure adequate protection to Indian diplomatic interests, as obligated under international conventions. In addition, it is a test of their resolve to investigate groups threatening violence, gathering and sharing intelligence on any organisations supporting them to plan or carry out attacks or a terror strike like the 1985 bombing of an Air India flight. Above all, these governments must not use “freedom of speech” tropes as a cover for failing to prevent criminal acts.

While the onus remains on the four countries where pro-Khalistan attacks have increased, New Delhi must also reconsider its public diplomacy on the issue. Repeatedly calling out foreign governments for their failure to respond to Indian requests, freezing diplomatic contact, tit-for-tat retaliatory measures such as downgrading security for the British High Commission might be demonstrative, but hardly diplomatically effective. In addition, with the exception of the U.S, the MEA has regularly summoned top diplomats of the countries named, to démarche them over attacks (there is often no distinction made between violent attacks and graffiti). While the government is justified in raising concerns over the safety of Indian citizens and Indian property, it must leave law and order issues and policing to the sovereign government in that country. New Delhi’s vocal protests on behalf of the Indian diaspora and community centres targeted by pro-Khalistan groups, for example, fail to recognise that, most often, the victims and perpetrators are of Indian origin. Given the rising protests and the alarming nature of the threats, the need of the hour is more cooperation, and not brinkmanship, between the governments, and a mechanism to share information, intelligence and discuss solutions to growing violence by such groups.

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