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No proof of Pakistani funding for Khalistan referendum: Canadian expert

LONDON: A leading Canadian public policy thinks tank’s director has said there is no evidence that Pakistan is funding pro-Khalistan groups such as Sikhs For Justice (SFJ), as the Sikh community living outside India generously supports groups standing up against New Delhi.

Terry Milewski, veteran CBC journalist and a senior figure at conservative-leaning public policy think tank Macdonald-Laurier Institute (MLI), spoke within hours after the SFJ and its counsel general Gurpatwant Singh Pannun started defamation proceedings against UK Conservative Party’s pro-BJP Lord Rami Ranger at the UK High Court for making false accusations that Pakistan’s spy agency funded the SFJ and its leading figure Pannun.

Terry Milewski is considered close to India’s ruling BJP and he is known for carrying out extensive research on the Sikh diaspora, the Khalistan movement and various pro-Khalistan groups. During a public online debate, he was asked if he believed that the SFJ received funding from Pakistan.

The Canadian author and think-tank head replied that he did not believe that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) funded the SFJ and its activism. He said there was plenty of evidence that Sikhs generously donate to the causes they like. Terry Milewski said: “I have seen no evidence that Pakistan funds the SFJ, considering the fact that the SFJ raises money through its own sources.

“I don’t think the SFJ has to go to Pakistan for money. Sikhs have been supporting the SFJ generously. They (the SFJ) don’t have to go to Pakistan begging for money as Pakistan doesn’t have enough money.”

Terry Milewski has a long history with the SFJ. In November 2021, the SFJ won the first round of a major defamation case at the Superior Court of Ontario, Canada, against Terry Milewski and the think tank Macdonald-Laurier Institute (MLI) over allegations that the SFJ and its Khalistan referendum campaign was a project run, controlled, funded, influenced and financed by Pakistan.

Terry Milewski had attempted to get the defamation case of SFJ dismissed by the Superior Court of Ontario, but the presiding judge Justice William Black, after reviewing the extensive evidence, ruled that the claim of defamation brought by the SFJ would be allowed to proceed to a trial and ordered the defendants Terry and MLI to pay to the SFJ the cost for the legal fee.

The case by SFJ goes back to the publication of the controversial report, published on Sept 9, 2020 by Terry Milewski and the MLI titled, “Khalistan: A Project of Pakistan”.

The report falsely contended that the SFJ was influenced or controlled by Pakistan; that its referendum campaign was being driven by Pakistan; that the SFJ does not actually represent the Sikh people; that it serves Pakistan and speaks for Pakistan; and finally, that Pakistan is SFJ’s patron and sets limits on its campaign.

Terry’s latest comments suggest that he no longer believes what he used to believe only a few months ago, as a serious defamation case was launched against him.

The SFJ has been banned by India since 2019 on account of running a secessionist referendum campaign. However, the group continues to operate unrestricted in western democracies, where freedom to express, through peaceful means such as holding a referendum, a dissenting political opinion is considered sacred and inviolable.

Last week, the SFJ and its leader Gurpatwant Singh Pannun took Tory Party’s Lord Rami Ranger to UK High Court for making false allegations that they were agents of a Pakistani intelligence agency and receiving money from the state of Pakistan for running a high-profile Khalistan movement.

The SFJ and Pannun are suing Lord Ranger for making statements that they are both part of a conspiracy mounted and funded by the enemies of India, namely Pakistan; that the SFJ has been declared a terrorist organisation by the Indian government; that the SFJ leader, Punnun, has used monies donated to the SFJ for his own benefit, including to enable him to buy a £1 million house; and both the SFJ and Pannun are funded by Pakistan and the Pakistani intelligence agency.

Pro-Khalistan Sikh leader Pannun and the SFJ are suing Lord Rami Ranger — a major Conservative party donor and one of the most well-known faces of British Indians — over two defamatory publications. In the first publication, published on Nov 30, 2021 in a Pakistani online paper, Lord Rami Ranger questioned the faith and funding sources of the SFJ and Pannun.

When asked if Pakistan was exercising an influence on the SFJ and Pannun as claimed by sections of the Indian media, Lord Ranger said that their “idea is to control the Gurdwaras to make money. They want to take over Gurdwaras and protest in the name of Khalistan to make money”. Lord Ranger said: “They are funded by the enemies of India.”

Lawyers for Pannun have complained that this tweet meant that the SFJ leader was funded by the enemies of India and by way of innuendo that his activities were funded by Pakistan.

The lawyers have said that allegations by Lord Ranger have caused serious harm to the claimants’ reputation and they have suffered considerable hurt, distress and embarrassment. Before issuing proceedings, the claimants had asked Lord Ranger to issue an apology and set the record straight, but he failed to do so.

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