Representational image |An ad promoting a pro-Khalistan t-shirt for sale. | Twitter
Text Size:

New Delhi: Pakistan may have banned pro-Khalistan activity on its soil, but that has not stopped its intelligence agency ISI from continuing to fund and support online activities in favour of a separate Sikh state.

A senior Punjab Police officer who monitors militant activity told ThePrint that the ISI has been funding pro-Khalistan activities like Referendum 2020, which its website calls “a campaign to liberate Punjab, currently occupied by India”.

Social media analytics confirm that pro-Khalistan campaigns on social media have seen a resurgence after India and Pakistan started on-ground work on the Kartarpur corridor in November 2018.

“There has been a greater focus on spreading Khalistani propaganda online, since it’s the cheapest, most cost-effective way to spread propaganda, and Pakistan has been funding and supporting these efforts,” said Sushant Sareen, senior fellow at Observer Research Foundation.

The Punjab Police officer quoted above added: “Social media has definitely become a nuisance. It will be used to run misinformation campaigns, to run movements like Referendum 2020, to idolise (banned) organisations like the KLF (Khalistan Liberation Force), to gather monetary funding, and to spread propaganda by selling T-shirts.”

The officer said movements like Referendum 2020 are funded by ISI through pro-Khalistani lawyer Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, legal advisor of Sikhs for Justice, the organisation which heads the movement.

Pakistani support on the ground too

According to an April 2019 report, Pakistan had banned Referendum 2020-linked activity on its soil at the request of India.

However, several pro-Khalistan social media accounts and websites, including those linked to Referendum 2020, can be traced back to Pakistan, said the police officer. “Pakistan is unofficially supporting Referendum 2020 even on the ground,” he said.

The officer added that there are physical posters of Referendum 2020 in Pakistan, some of them “large enough to cover a gurudwara”.

Sareen added that in the last four or five years, the Khalistan movement had gained considerable traction on the ground with the help of Pakistan’s ISI.

“Pakistan’s Khalistani proxies have been able to revive the movement in a robust way through protests and petitions like Referendum 2020 — there are Pakistani fingerprints all over this,” he said. “For instance Khalistan support groups in Canada are openly supported by Pakistani diplomats who are undercover ISI agents.”

After the Kartarpur announcement

The social media movement for Khalistan increased especially since work on the Kartarpur Corridor was announced by India and Pakistan in November 2018.

According to a report by Innefu, a social media monitoring lab which has worked with the Punjab Police, “Khalistan propaganda was almost inactive before the announcement for the Kartarpur Corridor”.

To substantiate its report, the Delhi-based lab tracked Khalistani propaganda online between April 2018 and April 2019. It compared the amount of pro-Khalistan content in November 2018 with number of pro-Khalistan content a month before, and found the number of Twitter posts increased to 1,181 from 161, the number of YouTube propaganda videos to 1,374 from 208, and the number of Facebook posts to 1,439 from 556.

The Punjab police officer spoke of two pro-Khalistan Twitter accounts in particular that have been identified by Innefu as spreading propaganda — @GurmeetKaur2020 and @1984Tribute.

@GurmeetKaur2020 publishes content like this video of an old woman using a slipper to slap the face of Narendra Modi pasted on an effigy:

https://twitter.com/GurmeetKaur2020/status/1108044850115559424

The handle also tweets photos of currency from a future Khalistan: “The National Bank Of Khalistan Issue 100 & 50 currency notes. Usable After 2020. Our Future #khalistan2020 “

https://twitter.com/GurmeetKaur2020/status/1126530055356801026

@1984Tribute posts content both idolising the KLF and commercialising Khalistan. These posts show tweets advertising Khalistan T-shirts and music with a show of guns as well.

https://twitter.com/1984Tribute/status/1125862269307490310

https://twitter.com/1984Tribute/status/1131538456306491395

Shift to WhatsApp

The police officer added that most of the propaganda content is now shifting to WhatsApp, instead of public platforms like Facebook or Twitter.

An example is the video (see above) of a woman saying Khalistan will be freed, which recently circulated on WhatsApp. It shows the woman trampling, tearing, then setting fire to an Indian flag against the backdrop of a Pakistani flag.

“Khalistan will be freed, and Kashmir will also be freed,” she says in Hindustani.

The police officer added that battling this online Khalistan activity is doubly difficult because of the use of bots and fake accounts.

“Tracing identities of those running accounts is difficult, because often, bots are used. Also, some accounts have Indian-sounding names, but when you track the IP address, they turn out to be based in Pakistan or the UK,” he said.


Also read: India shocked after Canada removes Khalistan from its report on terror threats


Subscribe to our channels on YouTube & Telegram

Why news media is in crisis & How you can fix it

India needs free, fair, non-hyphenated and questioning journalism even more as it faces multiple crises.

But the news media is in a crisis of its own. There have been brutal layoffs and pay-cuts. The best of journalism is shrinking, yielding to crude prime-time spectacle.

ThePrint has the finest young reporters, columnists and editors working for it. Sustaining journalism of this quality needs smart and thinking people like you to pay for it. Whether you live in India or overseas, you can do it here.

Support Our Journalism

VIEW COMMENTS

2 COMMENTS

  1. Both the Sunni Moslems ruled Pakistan and the Brahmins ruled India have committed genocides against the Sikh community since a very long time.

    Sikh population has gradually been decreasing in all of South Asia.

    Instead of funding such stupid projects both countries should use all these precious funds for the betterment and welfare of the poorest in their own countries. Instead, they have made it their policy focus to target the Sikh community in every way possible.

  2. Pakistan is in a long term war with India – no matter what they say and what the state of relationship is. They have said it openly: It is a thousand year war. It is a war of a thousand cuts. The war goes on even when we are talking and when we are not. In their world view, the war will not end until India is destroyed.

Comments are closed.