In 2006, the Canadian Government had appointed a Commission of Inquiry headed by former Supreme Court justice John Major to enquire into the crash of an aircraft of Air India named Kanishka on June 23,1985. The crash was caused by an explosive device suspected to have been planted in a piece of unaccompanied baggage by Sikh extremists belonging to the Babbar Khalsa headed by the late Talwinder Singh Parmar of Vancouver, Canada.329 civilians---270 of them Canadian nationals, 27 British nationals, 22 Indian nationals and 10 other foreign nationals---- were killed. The majority of the Canadian and British nationals killed were of Indian origin. The 22 Indians killed included 20 members of the crew. The flight was operating on the Montréal-London-Delhi-Bombay route. It was blown up in midair by a bomb in Irish airspace.
2.The report of the John Major Commission was released on June 17, 2010. The Commission has found that a "cascading series of errors" by the Government of Canada, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), which was set up only in 1984, allowed the terrorist attack to take place.We have been carrying relevant extracts from the report on the web site of the South Asia Analysis Group (SAAG) at www.southasiaanalysis.org.
3.The terms of reference of the Commission were restricted to finding out whether intelligence relating to the plans of the Sikh extremists based in Canada to blow up a flight of the Air India originating from a Canadian airport existed, if so, whether the disaster could have been prevented and why it was not prevented. The Commission's enquiry did not cover the role of Pakistan in assisting the Babbar Khalsa in organising acts of terrorism against Indian targets. This was not in its terms of reference. After the explosion, Parmar fled to Pakistan, where he was given sanctuary by the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). He operated from Pakistan against India till 1992 ----- for seven years --- and crossed over into India from Pakistan in 1992 following Western pressure on Pakistan to have him arrested and handed over to India for investigation and trial. He was killed in an encounter by the Punjab Police in 1992. The role of Pakistan in giving shelter to the main conspirator in the plot which blew up the Kanishka and continuing to help him and sponsor his acts of terrorism was also not gone into by the Major Commission. It was not in its terms of reference either.
4. When the Kanishka aircraft was blown up, Gen.Zia-ul-Haq was in power in Pakistan and was playing an active role in assisting the Central Intelligence Agency of the US in its operations against the Soviet troops in Afghanistan. In gratitude for this assistance, many transgressions of Pakistan were overlooked by the Western Governments. One of these transgressions was its assistance to the Babbar Khalsa which blew up the Kanishka and not extending mutual legal assistance to India in the investigation of the case. The second transgression was its clandestine acquisition of a military nuclear capability with the collusion of China.
5. Mrs.Benazir Bhutto came to power with the reluctant approval of the Pakistani Army and the ISI, then headed by Lt.Gen.Hamid Gul, following the elections held after the death of Zia in a plane crash in August,1988. After assuming office, she started exercising pressure on the ISI to stop playing what she used to call the Sikh card against India. There was pressure on the ISI from the Western Governments too.
6. The ISI asked the Government of Mr.Nawaz Sharif, which was then in power in Punjab as the Chief Minister, to take over the responsibility for assisting the Khalistani terrorists, including Parmar, and for funding and training them. The Nawaz Government readily agreed to this and asked the Special Branch of the Punjab Police to take over from the ISI the responsibility for assisting the Khalistani terrorists. It appointed Brig.Imtiaz, who headed the political division of the ISI under Zia, as adviser to the SB to supervise this project. He had been removed from the ISI by Benazir, who intensely disliked him.
7. What happened in Pakistan after the Kanishka disaster is now being repeated after the terrorist strikes of 26/11 in Mumbai carried out by the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET) with the prior knowledge and possibly tacit if not open approval of the ISI. One hundred and sixty-six persons, including 25 foreigners of different nationalities, were killed. Till the Kanishka disaster of June 1985, the repeated warnings of the Indian intelligence and security agencies about the emergence of the Babbar Khalsa as an international terrorist organisation were not treated seriously by their Western counterparts.
8. The Major Commission report clearly brings out that there was a considerable flow of intelligence and warnings from the Government of India about the plans of the Babbar Khalsa branch in Canada to blow up an Air India plane originating from Canada. There were also similar warnings and requests for physical security enhancements from Air India to Candian security offcials responsible for aviation security. The Major Commission report indicates that these warnings and intelligence, which had emanated from the Government of India and Air India, were not seriously acted upon by the Canadian authorities. The reports from the Government of India were attributed by them to the Indian tendency to "cry wolf". Air India's warnings were attributed to its alleged desire to obtain security enhancements without paying for it. The result: 329 innocent civilians perished. The disaster could have been easily prevented and their lives saved, if the warnings from the Govt. of India and Air India had been acted upon.
9. This could not be done because of the tendency of the Canadian authorities to view any intelligence warning emanating from India with a prejudiced mind through the prism of Inda's disputes with Pakistan. This prejudiced mindset is not unique to the Canadian authorities. It is shared by the authorities of other Western Governments too. Have they learnt any lessons from the Kanishka disaster?
10. No. The same prejudiced mind was seen between 9/11 and the London explosions of July,2005, in their tendency to dismiss Indian warnings of the emergence of the LET as an international terrorist organisation on par with Al Qaeda. They started paying serious attention to the LET only after the London explosions of 2005 and then after the 26/11 terrorist strikes in Mumbai.Just as they were looking at the Indian warnings regarding the Babbar Khalsa through the India-Pakistan prism, they continue to view even today the Indian warnings regarding the LET through the India-Pakistan prism.
11. In the actions taken by them after the Kanishka disaster, they made a distinction between the role of the Babbar Khalsa in indulging in terrorism and the role of the ISI in assisting it. Post-1985, they acted against the Babbar Khalsa as a terrorist organisation and co-operated with India in monitoring its activities, but they refrained from acting against the ISI. After the Kanishka explosion, it took about 10 years for the Babbar Khalsa to be brought under control. During this period, many more innocent civilians perished at its hands .
12.History has been repeating itself since 26/11. The Western Governments are now taking seriously the threat posed by the LET to them, but, at the same time, they are refraining from acting against the ISI without whose support the LET cannot survive for long. Unless there is simultaneous action against the LET and the ISI, the threat from the LET will continue for a long time.
13.After 26/11, the ISI is behaving exactly as it behaved after the Kanishka disaster. Because of the Western pressure and the close monitoring of the activities of the LET, it has asked the Special Branch of the Punjab Police to take over the responsibility for keeping the LET and its political wing the Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JUD) alive and active and for funding their activities. The Punjab Government of Chief Minister Shabaz Sharif, the brother of Mr. Nawaz, is going along with this.
14. The "Dawn" of Karachi reported on June 16,2010, that according to the supplementary budget for 2009-10 recently submitted to the Punjab Provincial Assembly for post-facto approval, the Government of Mr.Shabaz Sharif gave a grant of Rs79 million to the Markaz-i-Taiba, the headquarters of the JED and the LET at Muridke in Punjab. In addition,another sum of Rs3 million was given as grants to the schools run by the JUD in different districts of Punjab.Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah Khan, who has been accused by his critics of having contacts with the Sunni extremist Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, which is playing a leading role in the Punjabi Taliban, has admitted to having given the money to the JUD.
15. One does not see any sign that the West is moving to act against the continued nursing of the LET by the ISI, either directly, if possible, or through the Punjab Police. Unless this is stopped, disasters of the Kanishka and Mumbai kind will be repeated.The prejudiced view of Indian intelligence warnings and assesssments brought out in the Major Commission report continues even today 25 years after the Kanishka disaster---not only in Canada, but also in other Western countries. So long as they are not able to rid themselves of this prejudiced mindset, threats of mass casualty terrorism planned and carried out from Pakistani territory or with the assistance of its ISI will continue to confront not only India, but also the West. (20-6-10)
( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: email@example.com)