ALTERNATE NAMES: Babbar Khalsa International, International Sikh Youth Federation, Khalistand Zindabad Force, Khalistan Liberation Front, Dal Khalsa
LEADERS: Lakhbir Singh Rode (ISYF); Ranjit Singh Neeta (KZF)
YEAR ESTABLISHED OR BECAME ACTIVE: 1980s
USUAL AREAS OF OPERATION: Northern India, especially Punjab
Sikh (a sect) terrorism is allegedly sponsored by Sikh militant groups who demand the creation of a Sikh state called Khalistan (Land of the Pure), independent of India. Some of the prominent Sikh militant groups include organizations like Babbar Khalsa International, International Sikh Youth Federation (ISYF), Khalistan Zindabad Force (KZF), Dal Khalsa, Khalistan National Army (KNA), and several others. Terrorism experts are of the opinion that their major areas of operation include Northern India, Western Europe, Southeast Asia, and North America.
After the September 11, 2001, attacks in the United States, the U.S. Department of State assigned Babbar Khalsa International and International Sikh Youth Federation as terrorist organizations.
After India's independence from British rule in 1947, the province of Punjab was split into two, with parts of it being allotted to Pakistan and India. Published reports mention that after the Indian independence, a group of Sikhs demanded a separate Punjabi-speaking state (the native language of Sikhs) and a special place in the constitution of India. They reportedly felt that the Indian government was not treating them fairly by denying them a separate state. This was followed by the formation of an organization known as Patiala and East Punjab States Union (PEPSU) that had a Sikh majority. PEPSU, allegedly, encouraged the Sikhs to demand for an independent Sikh state within India.
However, the Indian government formed a larger state with a population consisting of both Hindus and Sikhs—a move that is thought to further dissatisfy the Sikhs. Eventually, in 1966, a separate state of Punjab was formed with Punjabi as the official language of the state. However, it has been reported that various fundamentalist Sikh groups were disgruntled as many regions that they claimed were rightfully theirs were allotted to the neighboring states of Haryana and Himachal Pradesh.
News and media agencies report that during the early 1980s, with an intention of winning over the Hindu voters of northern states, the reigning Congress Party led by Indira Gandhi, the then Prime Minister of India, allegedly used the differences between the Hindus and Sikhs of Punjab to their political advantage. Sant Harchand Singh Longowal, the leader of Akali Dal (ruling Sikh political party of Punjab at that time) allegedly started the Dharma Yudh (Religious War) in August 1982, and all the Akali Dal members resigned from the Legislative Assembly and the Parliament.
The tension reached its peak during 1983–1984 when the government of India, as alleged by various Sikh organizations, did not pay attention to the grievances of the Sikhs and their supporting political parties. Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, a radical Sikh leader, gained huge popularity during this period. He and his armed followers, allegedly, carried out various terrorist activities in the state to drive out the Hindu population from India. It is thought that most of the militant groups can trace their origins to Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale. During 1984, Bhindranwale and his supporters occupied the Golden Temple, a holy place of the Sikhs at Amritsar (in Punjab), and established their headquarters in the temple premises. Indira Gandhi, the then Prime Minister of India, launched the "Operation Blue Star" to flush out the terrorists from the besieged temple. This attack on the Sikh religious shrine that reportedly killed hundreds is thought by most experts to have infuriated the ardent Sikhism followers, subsequently leading to increased extremist activities. Eventually, in October 1984, the central government laid down the President's Rule in the state of Punjab. (In other words, the state of Punjab would be ruled by the President of India, rather than the democratically elected state government.)
The Indian government claims that the intention behind Operation Blue Star was not to attack the religious identity of the Sikhs, but to get hold of the armed Sikh Militants. However, the assassination of Indira Gandhi on October 31, 1984, by her Sikh bodyguards reportedly ignited anti-Sikh riots and claimed the lives of thousands of Sikhs. After the 1984 carnage, the number of militant groups operating in Punjab, allegedly, multiplied.
Babbar Khalsa International (BKI) is considered by the Indian authorities as one of the oldest (with its roots in the 1920's Babbar Akali Movement) and most prominent organizations that, as of 2005, continue to spread the ideology of Khalistan.
Babbar Khalsa International was reportedly founded in Canada by Sukhdev Singh Babbar and Talwinder Singh Parmar in early 1980s. The BKI claims that their objective is to have an independent Sikh state Khalistan. In 1992, the group seemingly split because of ideological differences among the leaders, and Talwinder Singh Parmar became the leader of the Babbar Khalsa Parmar faction (The original BKI was still reportedly led by Babbar). As of 2005, intelligence reports state that BKI is a part of Germany-based terrorist organization and also has established close links with Inter Services Intelligence (ISI)—Pakistan's external intelligence agency, accused by the Indian government of encouraging terrorism activities in the Indian-administered Punjab. Authorities blamed the BKI for the 1985 Air India plane bombing that took place near the Ireland coast and reportedly claimed more than 300 lives.
Babbar Khalsa members are also accused by the Indian government of masterminding and executing the assassination of the Punjab Chief Minister Beant Singh, in 1995. As thought by most analysts, as of 2005, even though the terrorist activities of Babbar Khalsa are not as prominent as they were in the 1980s, the movement still allegedly garners support of Sikh communities all over the world, including the United Kingdom, the United States, and Canada. Babbar Khalsa is, as of 2005, listed as a terrorist organization by India, the United States, and Canada.
After Operation Blue Star was carried out by the Indian army, in 1984, against the Sikh militants occupying the Sikh shrine Golden Temple, the Indira Gandhi government bore severe criticism from staunch Sikhs all over the world. The International Sikh Youth Federation (ISYF) was allegedly founded by Amrik Singh and Jasbir Singh Rode (nephew of Bhindranwale, a key Sikh fundamentalist who got killed in Operation Blue Star) in the United Kingdom after the Golden Temple crisis.
Soon after it was founded, the group is thought to have undergone a series of splits. Several splinter groups emerged with offices reportedly in the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, and Germany. The organization was allegedly involved in several terrorist activities in Punjab, including the assassination attempt on the Chief Minister of Punjab in 1997. The British government declared the ISYF as a proscribed organization, which was followed by the ban on the organization by the Indian government. The group was declared disbanded by one of the representatives of the ISYF in 2002. Amrik Singh proclaimed, in 2002, that the group had been disbanded as it was categorized as a terrorist organization. On April 30, 2004, the United States included ISYF in its Terrorist Exclusion List.
Khalistan Zindabad Force (KZF) was allegedly founded with the help of Sikhs based in Jammu, India. There is limited information about the strength and organization of this group. Reports suggest that Ranjit Singh Neeta, allegedly based in Pakistan, is the self-proclaimed leader of this terrorist outfit.
The group is thought to operate mainly in Punjab, Delhi, and Jammu (in northern India), but there are reports citing the operations of the group in Nepal as well. Law enforcement officials in Punjab have claimed, on several occasions, that KZF has links with Pakistan's ISI, along with several terrorist groups active in Jammu and Kashmir, including the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen.
LAKHBIR SINGH RODE
A prominent Sikh militant, Lakhbir Singh Rode is the leader of International Sikh Youth Federation, as of 2005. Rode is regarded as a "hardcore terrorist" by the authorities in Punjab, India, where most of his terrorist activities were reported. Most analysts argue that he stays in Pakistan and is considered as a "most wanted" terrorist by the government of India.
RANJIT SINGH NEETA
Ranjit Singh Neeta of the KZF reportedly started as a petty felon and later formed associations with smugglers and other more influential criminals. Authorities claim that Neeta was involved in a series of bomb blasts on buses and trains in the north east region of India, between 1988 and 1999.
Talwinder Singh Parmar is founder and one of the leaders of the Babbar Khalsa International. Parmar was killed in an encounter with the Punjab police, in 1992. Sukhdev Singh Babbar, another founder member of BKI, was also killed earlier that year. Reports suggest that Wadhwa Singh, who is allegedly at an undisclosed location in Pakistan, as of 2005, heads the Babbar Khalsa organization and Mehal Singh, is employed as his deputy chief.
Apart from Lakhbir Singh Rode, the Indian government has declared Wadhwa Singh and Mehal Singh of Babbar Khalsa International, and Ranjit Singh Neeta of KZF as "most wanted" terrorists and has demanded that the Pakistan government take actions to extradite them to India.
PHILOSOPHY AND TACTICS
Experts on Sikh militancy indicate that, in the 1970s, the radical ideologies of Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwal caused friction among the followers of the Sikh religion. It is thought that the ideologies of Sikh religion, such as the doctrine of one God and tolerance towards other religious followers, were not acceptable to certain fundamentalists who were in favor of creation of a separate state of Punjab and name it Khalistan. Bhindranwale reportedly advocated fundamentalism and encouraged armed struggle for the liberation of Khalistan. Most of the militant groups can trace their origins to Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and adopt his philosophies.
The main focus of all the Sikh militant groups is thought to be the creation of Khalistan. Media reports have quoted most Sikh militant group leaders proclaiming that Khalsa Raj (Rule of the Sikh Brotherhood) is free from evil as well as evildoers and eradicates all pains and sufferings. Additionally, these leaders reportedly propagate their belief by proclaiming that Khalistan would be an idyllic land free from cultural and economic exploitation.
Another Sikh militant organization Khalistan Zindabad Force (Victory to the Land of the Pure) reportedly aims at the creation of an independent Punjab and, as of 2005, is also focusing on the Jammu and Kashmir cause. KZF allegedly has support from the ISI of Pakistan and other Islamic fundamentalist terrorist organizations based in Pakistan and Kashmir.
The Sikh militants belonging to organizations such as Babbar Khalsa International, Khalistan Commando Force, and the International Sikh Youth Federation have, in the past, been accused by the Indian government of using violence to take charge of fund committees of temples and other charitable institutions (these funds are then allegedly used for their operations). They have also been accused of using threats and aggressive behavior to coerce Sikhs into accepting their orthodox ideals.
The tension between the Sikhs and Indian government reached its highest point in the 1980s. It is reported that between 1981 and 1992, seven major (and about a dozen smaller) Sikh militant organizations attacked and killed unarmed civilians, and also engaged themselves in random (as well as planned) acts of violence against individuals and groups with conflicting ideologies. They were also accused of assassinations and killings of political leaders and Hindu religious leaders. In 1982, as claimed by the Indian government, some 10,000 Sikhs took an oath on the premises of the Golden Temple, Amritsar, India, under the auspices of Bhindranwale, that they would rather attain martyrdom in their battle for Khalistan than give in to government pressure. The central government took charge eventually in 1984, and conducted a siege on the Golden Temple. This siege (Operation Blue Star) is thought to have incited Sikh militancy further. It also reportedly aggravated the Sikh-Hindu communalism and gave a push to extremism and political assassinations.
According to published reports, incidents as a result of Sikh terrorism include attacks on Indian officials and civilians (mainly Hindus, but also Sikhs who opposed extremism). Other tactics followed by militant groups range from kidnappings to bombings and assassinations.
- Sikh militants occupied the Golden Temple; Operation Blue Star was launched by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to drag out the militants from the Golden Temple; thousands lost their lives.
- Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her two Sikh bodyguards; this ignited the anti-Sikh riots and claimed a minimum of 2,000 lives in New Delhi and other northern Indian states.
- Sikh extremists belonging to the Babbar Khalsa organizations were accused by the Indian government of planning the Air India bombing over the Irish coast in June 1985, killing 329 passengers and crew onboard; on the same day, a bomb allegedly planted by Sikh militants on an Air India flight from Vancouver exploded in Tokyo's Narita Airport, claiming the lives of two Japanese baggage handlers.
According to terrorism experts and monitor groups, these militant movements are characterized according to their ideologies. During the 1980s when Sikh militancy was causing a great deal of concern for the Indian government, the leading political party, Indian National Congress, categorized these movements as "separatists" (separation from India), "disintegrationist" (breaking the integrity of the Indian nation), "fundamentalist," and "terrorist movements." Other political parties, including the opposition parties, reportedly labeled the Sikh militant organizations as "anti-Hindu," "anti-national," "undemocratic," and "extremist" movements, based on their philosophies.
As thought by these experts, one of the most organized tactics by Sikh militants was carried out on June 23, 1985. New Delhi-bound Air India flight Kanishka that took off from Toronto was bombed near the Irish coast, while it was preparing to land at the Heathrow Airport. This mid-air explosion claimed 329 lives, including passengers and crew. Indian investigations revealed that the explosions were carried out by two Sikh terrorists allegedly belonging to the Babbar Khalsa Organization. The Canadian authorities suspected that the bombing was conducted to avenge the 1984 Operation Blue Star. Ripudaman Singh Malik, 57, and Ajaib Singh Bagri, 55, both allegedly belonging to Babbar Khalsa Organization were charged with planting bombs on the plane. On March 17, 2005, the accused were however acquitted due to "lack of evidence." The British Columbia Supreme Court Justice, Ian Josephson, said that the key prosecution witnesses were "too late to be credible."
Experts and government authorities have also accused Sikh militants of engaging in random as well as targeted acts of violence against civilians and government, such as bombing and shoot-outs at marketplaces, movie theaters, restaurants, as well as at public and private properties. Some of these attacks have reportedly occurred outside Punjab in neighboring states of Himachal Pradesh and New Delhi.
Sikh militants have also been often accused by the Indian government for conspiring to disrupt, on a routine basis, the Indian Republic Day celebrations (the Republic Day is celebrated on January 26 every year to mark the day in 1950 when the Indian constitution took effect). It is alleged that the Sikh militant groups are funded by their internationally active cells and other overseas Sikh communities. In addition, authorities claim that International Sikh Youth Federation and World Sikh Council are their other major funding sources.
Media reports also claim that the Pakistan Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee (PGPC), the body that administers Sikh shrines in Pakistan, has been administered by the ISI. The PGPC was formed in 1999 and, according to intelligence reports, Sikh terrorists camping in Pakistan are working under the direct supervision of ISI. There are also claims by the Indian media that ISI has assigned the Islamic extremist militia Lashkar-e-Tayyiba (LeT) the charge of reviving terrorism in the state of Punjab. LeT is also blamed for providing arms and ammunitions as well as training to the groups of BKI, the KZF, and the ISYF.
In published research papers, Wassan Singh Zaffarwal, a leader of Khalistan Commando Force (KCF), has been quoted declaring: "We will not create a society where one human being is poor and sleeps in the street while his neighbor sleeps in the palace or a luxurious building. We shall remove all remaining feudal and monopolist forces." Another leader of KCF has declared that "You cannot take money from any poor person, ever. We're clear on that. However, we shall impose a tax of Khalistan government on the wealthy. We don't force money out of them. We shall tax them."
According to some reports, the Sikh Students Federation has laid out the "real" reason for the Khalistan movement, which is also allegedly supported by several Sikh militant organizations. The Sikh Students Federation declares that "The Sikh struggle is only against those blood-sucking leeches, wicked, tyrants, sinners, and destructive raiders who have made fatal assaults on their Guru Granth, dress, Gurudwaras, cultural, and truthful earnings."
A January 2004 foreign relations statement released by the Indian Ministry of External Affairs talks about the Indo-Canadian bilateral relations. The statement explicitly declares that "the problem of Sikh terrorism originating in Canada has been an important issue in India-Canada relations. Talwinder Singh Parmar of the Babbar Khalsa arrived in Canada in 1979 and began to conduct extremist activities. Lakhbir Singh Brar, a relative of Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, who joined Parmar in Canada in 1985, formed the International Sikh Youth Federation that came to control nearly 75% of the Gurdwaras in Canada by 1988. Canadian-based Sikh extremists bombed the Air India aircraft Kanishka in June 1985 and a bomb planted on another Air India aircraft exploded at Narita Airport, Tokyo."
In the 1991 report on Patterns of Global Terrorism submitted by the U.S. State Department Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism, it is mentioned that "the level of indigenous terrorism was high throughout 1991, as Punjabi, Kashmiri, and Assamese separatists conducted attacks in a bid to win independence for their states. Violence related to separatist movements claimed at least 5,500 lives in Punjab and over 1,500 lives in Kashmir." The report went on to mention that "in January, Sikh extremists declared war on the press in Punjab and forced reporters to stop calling them terrorists. Newsmen critical of Sikh terrorist tactics received death threats."
The Sikh militant groups have denied the accusations by the Indian government authorities and opposed the inclusion of their organizations in the list of terrorist organizations by governments around the world. It has been reported that most of these organizations consider themselves to be "fighting for a just cause" and claim that they have a "distinct goal" and a "professed logic for violence" in their movements. Terrorism experts state that many Sikh militants believe that the Khalsa (Sikh) has been created only to destroy the tyrant and the tyranny and for the protection of the poor.
However, after 1992, the instances of terrorism by Sikh militants have decreased significantly. This has been attributed to the success of the Indian government as well as the Punjab police. Indian authorities assert that peace has finally returned to Punjab.
Federation of American Scientists. "Sikh Terrorists." 〈http://www.fas.org/irp/world/para/sikh.htm〉 (accessed October 11, 2005).
GlobalSecurity.org. "Sikh Terrorists." 〈http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/para/sikh.htm〉 (accessed October 11, 2005).
GlobalSecurity.org. "Sikhs in Punjab." 〈http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/war/punjab.htm〉 (accessed October 11, 2005).
Office of the Secretary of State, Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism. "Patterns of Global Terrorism: 1991." 〈http://www.fas.org/irp/threat/terror_91/asia.html〉 (accessed October 11, 2005).
South Asia Terrorism Portal. "Terrorist Groups in Punjab." 〈http://www.satp.org/satporgtp/countries/india/states/punjab/terrorist_outfits/index.html〉 (accessed October 11, 2005).
The Mackenzie Institute. "Babbar Khalsa Banned at Last." 〈http://www.mackenzieinstitute.com/2003/terror060403.htm〉 (accessed October 11, 2005).