Contrasting Reactions to Ayman al-Zawahiri’s Death

In August 2022, the American intelligence agency CIA conducted a counter-terrorism operation in Kabul, the capital city of Afghanistan. This precision drone strike outed Ayman Al-Zawahiri, the leader of the Islamic terrorist organization Al-Qaeda. Soon thereafter, the FBI updated its list of most wanted terrorists with the word ‘deceased’ suffixed to Zawahiri’s name.

This strike was sanctioned by US President Joe Biden himself who congratulated America over his death while also noting how it will bring a sense of closure to the victims of the 9/11 attacks. Zawahiri, along with Osama Bin Laden, was the chief plotter of the 2001 terror attacks in the US which had claimed the lives of more than 3000 American citizens.

While Biden was breathing a sigh of relief for bringing justice to the victims with this drone strike after almost 21 years, guess who else couldn’t contain his jubilation over the death of Zawahiri — Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Soon after Zawahiri dropped dead due to the impact of two targeted Hellfire missiles, a tweet from Trudeau’s account appeared on the microblogging website ‘X’— “The death of Ayman al-Zawahiri is a step toward a safer world. Canada will keep working with our global partners to counter terrorist threats, promote peace and security, and keep people here at home and around the world safe”.

Now compare Trudeau’s reaction to the murder of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a Canada-based Khalistani terrorist who was ambushed and shot down in a fatal incident in the parking lot of a Gurudwara on June 18.

Trudeau not only used Nijjar’s death to point fingers at India for breaching Canada’s sovereignty but he also addressed him as a ‘Canadian citizen’ and not what he actually was — a terrorist who was reviving a terror outfit in the form of Khalistan Tiger Force (KTF) to carry out attacks against India.

He had fled India and settled in Canada on the basis of forged documents in 1996. In 2012, he trained in Pakistan alongside Jagtar Singh Tara, a Pakistan-based Khalistani terrorist who had helped him become an ISI asset. Later in 2015, when Thailand deported Tara to India, Nijjar became the new KTF chief.

Even as the Trudeau government was failing to back up the allegations against India with credible evidence, the official Canadian narrative was painting a man as dangerous as Nijjar as a ‘Sikh activist’, a truck driver and a plumber who was an ‘innocent’ and ‘religious’ Sikh, one who served as the head of a Gurudwara in Surrey, Canada.

It is a different matter that his foray into Gurudwara politics was just a pretext to save himself from the Interpol Red Corner notice that India had secured against him. Under him, the Gurudwara had also become a place for frequent Khalistani activities with many meets of the separatists taking place in the premises. In tribute to him, the same Gurudwara where he had served as the President has also put up a banner calling him “Shaheed Jathedar” or “Martyr Leader”.

Meanwhile, Trudeau isn’t alone in white-washing Nijjar as a mere Canadian citizen. A slew of Western commentators, desi think-tanks in the West as well as politicians of both liberal and conservative hue have actively defended Nijjar and other Khalistanis as Sikh activists in the last ten days.

Some of them including Greg Pence, brother of Mike Pence, former Vice President of the US, have even gone to the extent of comparing the murder of Nijjar as an act of state-sponsored violence against the Sikh community. Pence is currently serving as the US representative for Indiana’s 6th Congressional district where his constituency is also home to members of the Sikh community.

Just like Trudeau and Jagmeet Singh, head of the Canadian New Democratic Party in Canada, appeasement politics has corrupted the mindset of many leaders in the United States as well who are not able to make a simple distinction between a Sikh and a terrorist.

The entire Khalistani gang is making full use of this fact by alluding to their Sikh identity even as they have picked up arms and are openly calling for the exodus of Hindus from Western countries.

The political calculations of Western leaders are allowing the Khalistanis to spread their agenda across the world but what’s truly ironic is that the same leaders are ready to celebrate the deaths of Islamic terrorists such as Zawahiri and Osama Bin Laden because according to them, they are not doctors or religious scholars but terrorists unlike Nijjar, who is a Sikh activist, a plumber or anything else but definitely not a terrorist.

It is this mindset due to which Western countries including Canada have not acted against the Khalistani elements despite repeated follow-ups by India in the form of dossiers. The most stringent action that Canada had taken against Nijjar was to put him on a No-Fly list.

The entire series of events in the past few days has exposed many key aspects of West’s thinking. The issue with a rising India is that if China is suffering from the middle kingdom syndrome and is forcing India into a tributary-like behavior instead of treating it like an equal civilizational state, the West is still suffering from its colonial-era hangover and the urge to civilize the entire world by making them follow the superior Western values.

For the West, especially Canada which is a pigmy state in comparison to the giant that India is — population-wise as well as economically — schooling natives into how a particular community should be treated is very important.

It doesn’t matter that Sikhs and Hindus have co-existed for many decades in India. It also doesn’t matter that the wedge being driven between the Sikhs and the Hindus by the Khalistani project is an artificial one. All that the West wants is to civilize the savages through condemnation of their objection to the Khalistanis.

In fact, forget independence of action, the West does not want India to even have the authority to define who is a threat to the Indian state and who is not. If it has been decided by the West that Khalistan is a freedom of speech issue and not one of a violent challenge to India’s territorial integrity, then so be it. Instead of questioning this framing, India must bend the knee and accept its fault.

While the brown sepoys in the Western countries have made peace with this kind of behavior towards India, the truth is that Indians themselves are not willing to accept this framing at all. The backlash by the English-speaking educated population of India on

social media is a fantastic example of the same.

West’s allegations have instead accomplished the unachievable by bringing a voice of unity across the political spectrum in India. It was a sight worth marvel when Omar Abdullah, an Opposition politician from Kashmir backed the government’s stand and rebuked the West.

Ironically, Kashmir had also been a site of Western lectures to India on the right of the separatists to unleash violence but now the situation is completely flipped. A few years down the line, the same story will be true of Khalistan as well.

India’s continuous rise has ensured that Sikhs also prosper, leading them to be one of the wealthiest social groups in the country. The Khalistan project is completely dead in India. There are more odds of Khalistan becoming a reality in a Canadian neighborhood today and the West only will be responsible for it.

The author is a PhD from the Department of International Relations, South Asian University. She writes on India’s foreign policy. Views expressed in the above piece are personal and solely that of the author. They do not necessarily reflect Smartkhabrinews’s views.

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