India and Canada are once again facing diplomatic tensions after a prominent separatist leader warned Sikhs not to travel on Air India flights later this month, citing potentially life-threatening consequences.
The Canada-based Khalistani leader, Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, released a video in which he repeated multiple threats of danger to those travelling by the Indian state carrier on 19 November.
“We are asking the Sikh people to not fly via Air India on 19 November. There will be a global blockade. Do not travel by Air India or your life will be in danger,” he said, repeating the threats in a video circulating on social media.
“It is my warning to the government of India,” said Mr Pannun, who was earlier rumoured to have been killed in a car accident in the US.
Mr Pannun, who is designated an independent terrorist by the Indian government, claimed New Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International (IGI) airport would be shut down on 19 November, calling for its name to be changed.
India is hosting the final match of the international men’s cricket World Cup on the same date.
“It is the same day on which the final match of the World Terror [sic] Cup will be played. It will be shown to the world that a genocide of Sikhs happened in India and India did it. When we liberate Punjab, the name of these airports will be Shahid Beant Singh and Shahid Satwant Singh airport,” said Mr Pannun, referencing the two separatist leaders who assassinated former Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi in October 1984.
The Independent has not verified the authenticity of the video.
On Sunday, Indian officials said they would discuss the threat with Canadian authorities.
“We shall take up the threat against Air India flights originating from and terminating in Canada, with the concerned Canadian authorities,” India’s high commissioner to Canada, Sanjay Kumar Verma, told the Indian newspaper Hindustan Times.
He added that the Indian authorities had seen the video issued by the Khalistani leader.
“We have studied the contents of the video, which is in clear violation of the Chicago Convention, which lays out a framework for international civil aviation operations. Canada and India, among many other nations, are parties to the convention,” the envoy said.
India and Canada are expected to tackle such threats according to the bilateral civil aviation agreement, he said.
The threats to target flights and India’s biggest airport bear a resemblance to the terrorist attack orchestrated by Khalistan leaders in June 1985, resulting in the deaths of 329 people on board Air India flight 182.
It comes after Mr Verma said the Canadian police probe into the murder of a Sikh separatist leader this year had been damaged by a high-level Canadian official’s public statement.
“I would go a step further and say now the investigation has already been tainted,” Mr Verma told the Globe and Mail. “A direction has come from someone at a high level to say India or Indian agents are behind it,” he said, without naming the official.
Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau sent bilateral ties into limbo in September after suggesting there was Indian involvement in the murder of Canadian citizen and Sikh separatist leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar in a Vancouver suburb.
The two nations have been hit by the diplomatic row, which resulted in Canada withdrawing 41 diplomats from India after New Delhi in September asked Ottawa to reduce its diplomatic presence following Canada’s allegations over Nijjar’s killing.
Mr Verma said India had still not been presented with concrete evidence by Canada or Canada’s allies of India’s involvement, despite a US envoy saying that the Five Eyes alliance was aware of India’s interference.
Weeks before world leaders of the most powerful economies were set to meet for the G20 Summit held in New Delhi, Canada approached its closest allies of the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing nations to jointly raise the issue at the summit, Western officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity told The Washington Post.
The Independent has contacted India’s Ministry of External Affairs for comment.