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RAW's Rogue Killings: A Stain on India's Rise

RAW's Rogue Killings: A Stain on India's Rise

By Manahil Jaffer

 


Indian image at the global arena has undergone a significant transformation in recent years. Prime Minister Narendra Modi emphatically projects a vision of a "New India" – a rising power on the world stage. However, beneath this veneer of progress, lies a disturbing reality – a covert campaign of violence targeting the Indian diaspora abroad. This shadowy enterprise, orchestrated by India's premier intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), casts a long shadow over the international relations of India besides raising concerns on erosion of its democratic principles.


The botched assassination attempt on Sikh leader Gurpatwant Singh Pannun in the United States exposes a pattern of covert killings orchestrated by India's intelligence tentacles. This cycle of violence doesn't stop at the US borders. RAW also killed Sikh activist Hardeep Singh Nijjar in Canada, and besides mysterious slow poisioning of another activist, Avtar Singh Khanda in the UK. Upping the ante further, raising tensions, RAW has actively been involved in the murders of Muhammad Riaz and Shahid Latif as evidenced by the dossier presented by Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA). Such sinister operations have exploited criminal syndicates for deniability while exhibiting showcased a reckless disregard for international law.

 

This aggressive approach marks a significant shift in India's foreign policy under Modi’s stewardship. Traditionally, RAW's activities were focused on gathering intelligence in neighboring countries. However, emboldened by self-percieved image of being rising global power, India has adopted tactics previously associated with authoritarian or monarchial regimes only. New mantra of transnational repression involves, the use of intimidation, violence, and even extrajudicial killings of critics and dissidents who are residing abroad. Definitely, this new found belligerance is an alarming trend.


The justifications offered by Indian officials for such actions are also deeply flawed. They portray the Sikh diaspora, particularly those advocating for an independent Khalistan, as a monolithic terrorist threat. Experts on the region, however, debunk this narrative as a political ploy, which is only meant to stoke nationalist sentiment and demonize a minority community. Ajai Sahni, Executive Director of the Institute for Conflict Management in New Delhi, argues that BJP’s depictions are "far in excess of what actually exists." He highlights the political incentives for exaggerating the threat, allowing the Government to position itself as the sole guarantor of security, for the Hindu majority.


The international community has responded with a mix of condemnation. The United States, a crucial strategic partner for India, has privately confronted the Modi Government on the issue of assassinations plot. However, their response has been tempered by realpolitik considerations. The desire to maintain a strong relationship with a rising India has prevented them from taking more forceful actions, such as sanctions or expelling RAW officials from USA. A recent State Department Human Rights Report did catalogue India's alleged engagement in transnational repression, but so far the response from Biden Administration has been largely muted.


Canada, with its sizeable Sikh population, has taken a more resolute stance. The expulsion of the RAW Station Chief at Ottawa, following the killing of Sikh activist Hardeep Singh Nijjar has sent a strong message. This incident highlighted the potential for a serious rift between democracies if India continued down its path of transnational repression.


The ethical and legal implications of India's covert operations are also undeniable. The extrajudicial killings violate fundamental human rights, as documented by Freedom House. The organization lists India among countries employing tactics like "kidnapping, forced returns or other violence" against its citizens abroad. Moreover, the use of violence on foreign soil undermines international norms besides weakening the global order. These actions also damage India's reputation as a responsible global power. The notion that a nation can eliminate its perceived enemies abroad sets a dangerous precedent. The targeted killings not only create a climate of fear within the diaspora but also risk escalating tensions with neighboring countries such as Pakistan.


Indian Prime Minister Modi's boastful declaration of a "New India" that "comes into your home to kill you" stands in stark contrast to the democratic values a rising power should embody. Moreover, Modi's branding of Muslims as "infiltrators" and "child-producing factories" unveils the reality of the vision of “New India”. A "New India" should represent progress and inclusivity, not division and discrimination. Instead of resorting to such inflammatory rhetoric, India must prioritize dialogue and respect for all its citizens, regardless of their religion or background, both at home and abroad. India must move away from these tactics of transnational repression and embrace a more peaceful and lawful approach to engage with its diaspora communities around the world. There is a pressing need for India to revisit its approach towards minorities in India including Muslims and the Sikh diaspora. Open dialogue and addressing genuine grievances within the community will be far more constructive than resorting to violence and intimidation.


The specter of RAW now looms large, its once-murky reputation is stained with the blood of targeted killings. The bungled assassination plots abroad expose a festering wound within the agency – a lack of accountability and a disregard for the very laws it's sworn to uphold. Reform must be a scalpel, wielded with precision to excise this malignancy. Only then can RAW become a true guardian, not a phantom assassin in the shadows.


India stands at a crossroads. Will it cling to the ghosts of the past, silencing dissent with violence? Or will it forge a new path, one illuminated by the ideals of democracy and tolerance? The world watches, waiting to see if the "New India" will rise on the wings of a just society, or crumble under the weight of an iron fist

 

*Opinions expressed in this article are the writer's own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of The South Asia Times   

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