New Delhi: The expected initiation of criminal charges against an Indian citizen for conspiring to assassinate a Sikh leader in New York, has compelled India’s intelligence agency Research Analysis Wing (RAW) to shut down operations at its stations in the North America for the first time since 1968, says a report by ThePrint.
According to Kashmir Media Service, federal prosecutors in Manhattan, New York, said Nikhil Gupta, 52, worked with the Indian government employee, whose responsibilities included security and intelligence, on the plot to assassinate New York City resident, identified as Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, who advocated for creation of Khalistan – a sovereign Sikh state by separating Punjab from India.
RAW has been in a spotlight globally especially after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in September announced that Indian government agents were involved in the killing of Sikh leader, Hardeep Singh Nijjar, in Surrey city of the British Columbia province of Canada in June.
India angrily denied the charges and demanded that Canada – which expelled RAW’s station chief – furnish evidence. Ottawa said it shared proof with allies, but will not release it publicly.
A recent Reuters report quoted Indian intelligence officials and analysts as saying that the killing of Nijjar has also raised concerns that RAW will come under greater global monitoring. Reuters reported that it spoke to four retired and two serving Indian security and intelligence officials familiar with RAW who said the agency was galvanised to play a more assertive international role after the 2008 Mumbai attacks that left 166 people dead. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive matters.
Four officials said that RAW expanded its reach in Western nations gradually after 2008. One current official cited India’s failure to secure the extradition of a US citizen convicted of involvement in the Mumbai attack as a key motivation for RAW to step up its covert operations in the West.
Pakistan had also last week voiced concern over the alarming expansion of India’s covert operations, including espionage and extraterritorial assassinations, on a global scale, condemning these actions as blatant violations of international law.
Providing insights into subsequent events, ThePrint report, citing intelligence sources, revealed that two high-ranking RAW officers were asked to depart from their posts in major Western cities earlier this summer. The publication said it withheld the names of the two officers as both remain in service with the agency.
“Expelling the officers was part of a series of moves intended to signal anger against what the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom saw as violations of the unwritten conventions which govern the operations of RAW in those countries,” the report added. It said the officers were the head of the RAW station in San Francisco and the second-in-command of its operations in London, the sources said.
“The shuttering of RAW’s stations in San Francisco and Washington DC, coming on the back of the publicly-declared expulsion of its station chief in Ottawa, Pavan Rai, has left the agency unrepresented in North America for the first time since it was founded during the tenure of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1968,” according to the report.
It said prosecutors in the US claimed that alleged drug dealer Nikhil Gupta was offered up to $150,000 by an individual claiming to work for the Indian intelligence services to arrange the murder of an unnamed Khalistan lawyer and activist.
ThePrint quoted its sources as saying that the US officials told interlocutors in New Delhi that RAW conspired to assassinate top Khalistan activist and lawyer Pannun. It also reported that the expulsion of the RAW officer in San Francisco was done with an apprehension that the US would not cooperate with Indian intelligence if the agency continued offensive operations in the West.
ThePrint report said, British intelligence had voiced unhappiness on several occasions over the increasing involvement of RAW in Sikh diasporic politics in the country under former chief Goel, a Punjab-cadre IPS officer who served in operations against Khalistan terrorists before joining RAW.
The report also quoted an unnamed senior RAW officer as saying “if the problem really escalates, the ambassador or high commissioner might be involved, but things have never gone this far.”