Indian foreign minister given increased protection amid Sikh separatist row

Indian foreign minister given increased protection amid Sikh separatist row

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The security cover for Indian foreign minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar has been upgraded to the maximum “Z” category, a day after “wanted” posters with his picture were displayed in Canada.

It comes amid an unprecedented diplomatic crisis between India and Canada after prime minister Justin Trudeau said there were “credible allegations” that the Indian government could be behind the slaying of a Canadian Sikh in Surrey, British Columbia on 18 June.

Hardeep Singh Nijjar, who was president of a Surrey gurudwara and listed as a wanted terrorist by India, was shot dead by two masked gunmen outside his Sikh temple. Nijjar was a prominent activist calling for the creation of an independent Sikh state – the so-called Khalistan movement – but denied involvement in any kind of militancy.

Earlier this week, life-size posters labelling Mr Jaishankar, prime minister Narendra Modi and high commissioner Sanjay Kumar Verma as “enemies of Canada” had been put up outside a Sikh temple in Surrey.

The posters with the words “assassination” and “wanted” were erected by the US-based group Sikhs for Justice outside the same Sikh temple where Nijjar was assassinated.

India’s home ministry then raised the security level for Mr Jaishankar from “Y” to “Z” level on Thursday, official sources familiar with the development told the PTI news agency.

As well as calling for the “assassination” of the three, one poster features calls for a fresh unofficial referendum on whether a seaparate state for Sikhs should be carved out of India.

Several such exercises have been held in the past in countries with significant Sikh diaspora groups. India sees such activity as a threat to its national security and routinely brands pro-Khalistan activists as terrorists.

Nonetheless, the Indian government has repeatedly denied involvement in Nijjar’s killing, and said it will cooperate with any investigation into his death if provided with “specific” information about Canada’s concerns.

Following Mr Trudeau’s allegations in parliament, Mr Jaishankar complained of a “climate of violence” and an “atmosphere of intimidation” against Indian diplomats in Canada.

“Because there is freedom of speech, to make threats and intimidate diplomats, I don’t think that’s acceptable,” Mr Jaishankar told reporters in Washington last month.

Mr Jaishankar will be provided security cover by the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), a paramilitary force, comprising a total of 22 personnel, including between four and six Black Cats commandos and police personnel, the report said.

The security was stepped up following an intelligence report from the Intelligence Bureau (IB), sources said, without giving the details of the report.

It comes after the head of Sikhs For Justice warned India of a Hamas-like attack in a video. Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, who has been wanted in India since 2019, equated the Khalistani movement with the situation in Israel.

“People under illegal occupation from Punjab to Palestine will react. And violence begets violence,” he said.


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