Counter-Terrorism: Striving To Settle The Sikh Schism


May 22, 2011:  India has removed over a hundred Sikhs, most of them elderly, from their official list of terrorists. This is a grand gesture to try and bring the thirty year Sikh rebellion to an end. From the 1970s, through the early 1990s, many of the 20 million Sikhs (a 600 year old religion with roots in Hinduism) sought to establish a separate Sikh state in northwest India. Then it got worse when, in 1984, two Sikh bodyguards assassinated the Indian prime minister, which led to over 10,000 Sikh men being killed in mob violence. Some Sikhs in Punjab state (where most Sikhs live) organized terrorist groups, and there followed a decade of increased violence.

India crushed these Sikh separatists by concentrating on what were basically police methods of developing informers and double agents and going after the key people and the fund raising activities. There were some major battles when the separatists sought to seize and hold major Sikh temples. In 1988, the Black Cat commandos conducted Operation Black Thunder against Sikh separatists in the Punjab who were using temples as bases. The operation was considered a major success and a boost to India's reputation for being able to deal with major terrorist operations. But some of these operations were very controversial, since the separatists were holed up inside a temple. Some assaults were carried out with heavy weapons (armored vehicles) in addition to lots of infantry. The result was often an international media disaster despite the operation's success, due to the heavy civilian casualties incurred during the fighting. But the most active rebels were eliminated.

The battles against the separatist controlled temples convinced the rebels that they could not expect to win, at least not yet, fighting the military directly. Indian anti-terrorism operations caused most of the Sikh separatists to flee the country, and its these leaders, at least the more moderate ones, who are coming off the blacklist. That means they can come back to India without getting arrested.



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