Earlier this month, Canadian senator from the Conservative Party Salman Attaullahjan organised a Pakistan Day event at Parliament Hill, in the nation's capital Ottawa.
Since the senator is of Pakistani-origin, that event, in itself, was hardly unusual. However, what irked not just Indian officials, but also the Indo-Canadian community, was that a prominent proponent of Khalistan, Sukhminder Singh Hansra, was afforded a platform at the event. Hansra, president of the Shiromani Akali Dal or SADA, Canada East, openly advocates for Khalistan, and is a leading figure in the separatist movement in Canada.
During his speech to an assemblage that included a senator from Pakistan's ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party of Imran Khan, and a former Chief Justice of Pakistan, Hansra spoke of a "stateless nation", referring to Khalistan, interacting with the State of Pakistan.He went to on to praise the Pakistan prime minister, while describing his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi as "disgusting" in the context of the Pulwama terror attack and the consequent Balakot air strikes.
Hansra's presence at the event is yet another indicator of how pro-Khalistan elements in North America are no longer shy of publicly aligning themselves with the Pakistani government. Asked about this trend earlier this year, Hansra told his writer that he had never even visited the Pakistan Consulate in the Greater Toronto Area or GTA in earlier years, but now he said, "If the circumstances permit, I will definitely travel to Pakistan."
The earlier concern of being accused of being sponsored by Pakistan is no longer as palpable, and now proximity is not a problem, as, ostensibly, the Khan government has reached out to the Sikh community with its promise of the Kartarpur Corridor.
Late last year, Hansra organised an Evening of Honour and Dignity on 21 December, slated as an event to fete Imran Khan and Pakistani army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa for the Kartarpur initiative. That event was attended by Pakistan's Consul-General in Toronto Imran Ahmad Siddiqui, who was invited to two more such gatherings.
Hansra is hardly alone is this new-found closeness to Pakistan. Also in December, Sikhs for Justice or SFJ, the group behind the 2020 Referendum campaign for a separate Khalistan called upon Khan "to politically support Referendum 2020 movement to liberate Punjab from the Indian Occupation". Its legal advisor Gurpatwant Pannun said this was their first "formal approach" to Islamabad. It has also described the corridor as a "Bridge to Khalistan" and has an office now in Lahore to coordinate the culmination of the 2020 campaign.
In fact, this phenomenon became even more evident as the Pulwama attacks occurred, with SFJ was quick to state this was "NOT an act of terrorism but a lawful act of attacking legitimate military target in a designated area of conflict " Kashmir". Post-Balakot, it sent an open letter to Pakistan's prime minister to assure him that "at this critical juncture, Pro-Khalistan Sikhs" stood "in solidarity with Pakistan".
As the SADA Canada East hosted the second quadrennial World Sikh Convention in Toronto last month and hoisted the Khalistan flag, it also released its version of the map of that proposed nation. Not surprisingly, given the current bonhomous banter with Islamabad, this ahistorical map contained a large chunk of India, including even Delhi, and its creators found nothing absurd in the fact that its contours omitted Pakistan's Punjab province and even Lahore, the capital of the last Sikh nation under the legendary Maharaja Ranjit Singh.