OPERATION BLACK THUNDER I
Khalistan is the name given to the nation proposed by Sikh separatists in the Punjab province of India. The territorial claim of Khalistan includes the existing Indian province of Punjab, Chandigarh, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Delhi, and some areas of the states of Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, etc. Khalistani separatists declared their unilateral independence from India on 29 April 1986 and in 1993 Khalistan became a member of UNPO. The Khalistan movement was at its peak in the 1980s and 1990s, later the Indian government suppressed the movement till 1995.
The demand for a separate Sikh nation began after the fall of the British Empire. In 1940, Khalistan was mentioned for the first time in a pamphlet called “Khalistan”. After 1947, the Khalistan movement flourished in the Indian state of Punjab with the financial and political support of migrant Sikhs and Pakistan’s ISI, and the movement reached its zenith by the 1980s. According to Jagjit Singh Chouhan, after the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971, Pakistani Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, during his talks with Jagjit Singh Chouhan, offered to help create Khalistan.
Insurgency started in the decade 1984, and lasted till 1995, to crush this extremism, the Government of India and the army conducted Operation Blue Star, Operation Wood Rose, Operation Black Thunder 1, and Operation Black Thunder 2, due to these actions, the extremism ended to a great extent. done but Many civilians died in this and the Indian Army was accused of human rights violations. Due to heavy police and military action and the disenchantment of a large Sikh population with this movement, the movement began to weaken by 1990, due to which the movement failed to reach its objective.
Some Indian Sikhs and expatriate Sikhs still support Khalistan in protest against the civilian casualties during Operation Blue Star. In early 2018, some militants were arrested by the Punjab Police. Former Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh claimed that the recent extremism was supported by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and “Khalistani separatists” from the US, Canada, and the UK.
With the full or partial support of key Sikh leaders, the militants claimed a safe haven, the holiest place for Sikhs.
Evidence of resorting to violence was later found by security forces after Operation Black Thunder when hundreds of bodies of the slain and slain opponents were buried at the Akal Takht and other places at the Golden Temple.
This gave the militants access to new potential recruits from among the visitors. Around the parikrama, several multi-story buildings were located around the temple reservoir that provided rooms and offices that were taken over by the militants.
In addition, the sanctity of the Golden Temple provided protection from arrests by the security forces.
Operation Black Thunder is the name given to two operations that took place in India in the late 1980s to flush out remaining pro-Khalistan Sikh militants from the Golden Temple using ‘Black Cat’ commandos of the National Security Guards and commandos from the Border Security Force. Like Operation Blue Star, these attacks were on the Sikh militants based in the Golden Temple in Amritsar, Punjab
Operation Black Thunder I
The first Operation Black Thunder took place on 30 April 1986. About 200 radical Sikh militants had been occupying the temple premises for the last 3 months. The operation was commanded by Julio Ribeiro, who was the DGP of Punjab. About 300 National Security Guards commandos stormed the Golden Temple, the holiest shrine of the Sikhs, along with 700 Border Security Force troops and captured about 200 Sikh militants. One person was killed and two were injured. The operation, which lasted eight hours, was approved by then Chief Minister of Punjab Surjit Singh Barnala of Shiromani Akali Dal. The operation had the full support of moderate Sikh leaders and several leaders praised the police action for flushing out terrorists, separatists, and anti-faith elements.
Operation Black Thunder II
Operation Black Thunder II (sometimes just referred to as Operation Black Thunder) began on 9 May 1988 in Amritsar and ended with the surrender of the militants on 18 May. The operation was commanded by Kanwar Pal Singh Gill who was the DGP of Punjab Police. Snipers were used in this operation. Compared to Operation Blue Star, little damage was inflicted on the Golden Temple. In what was reported as a successful operation, around 200 militants surrendered, and 41 were killed. Gill stated that he did not want to repeat the mistakes made by the Indian army during Operation Blue Star. This operation was described as a severe setback to the Anandpur Resolution implementation movement. In contrast to prior operations, the minimum force was used under full public scrutiny. It is remembered for the free access the news media was provided unlike during Operation Blue Star. The day after the militants surrendered, nine reporters were allowed into the Temple complex. Kirtan was resumed at the Golden Temple on 23 May 1988 after a two-week break during this operation.
While Operation Blue Star was widely considered poorly executed and shambolic because of the egregious loss of civilian lives and the damage done to both the Golden Temple and Sikh relations with the government (culminating in the assassination of Indira Gandhi by her bodyguards and anti-Sikh riots), Operation Black Thunder was far more successful with the blockade tactics paying dividends and has been credited with breaking the back of the Sikh separatist movement. Soon after this operation, the Indian Government banned the use of religious shrines for political and military purposes and increased penalties for the possession and use of illegal weapons, as part of its strategy to fight extremism in the Punjab region.
In 2002, Sarabjit Singh, then Deputy Commissioner of Amritsar at the time published the book “Operation Black Thunder: An Eyewitness Account of Terrorism in Punjab”. The account was criticized by Kanwar Pal Singh Gill who claimed that the operation was initially called “Operation Gill” before being renamed “Operation Black Thunder”.
Outside of India
Operation Blue Star and its violent aftermaths popularized the demand for Khalistan among many Sikhs dispersed globally. The involvement of sections of the Sikh diaspora turned out to be important for the movement as it provided diplomatic and financial support. It also enabled Pakistan to become involved in the fueling of the movement. Sikhs in the UK, Canada, and the USA arranged for cadres to travel to Pakistan for military and financial assistance. Some Sikh groups abroad even declared themselves as the Khalistani government in exile.
The Sikh place of worship, gurdwaras provided the geographic and institutional coordination for the Sikh community. Sikh political factions have used the gurdwaras as a forum for political organization. The gurdwaras sometimes served as the site for the mobilization of the diaspora for the Khalistan movement directly by raising funds. Indirect mobilization was sometimes provided by promoting a stylized version of conflict and Sikh history. The rooms in some gurdwara exhibit pictures of Khalistani leaders along with paintings of martyrs from Sikh history. Gurdwaras also host speakers and musical groups that promote and encourage the movement. Among the diasporas, the Khalistan issue has been a divisive issue within gurdwaras. These factions have fought over the control of gurdwaras and their political and financial resources. The fights between pro and anti-Khalistan factions over gurdwaras often included violent acts and bloodshed as reported from the UK and North America. The gurdwaras with Khalistani leadership allegedly funnel the collected funds into activities supporting the movement.
Different groups of Sikhs in the diaspora organize the convention of international meetings to facilitate communication and establish organizational order. In April 1981 the first “International Convention of Sikhs,” was held in New York and was attended by some 200 delegates. In April 1987 the third convention was held in Slough, Berkshire where the Khalistan issue was addressed. This meeting’s objective was to “build unity in the Khalistan movement.”
All these factors further strengthened the emerging nationalism among Sikhs. Sikh organizations launched many fund-raising efforts that were used for several purposes. After 1984 one of the objectives was the promotion of the Sikh version of “ethnonational history” and the relationship with the Indian state. The Sikh diaspora also increased their efforts to build institutions to maintain and propagate their ethnonational heritage. A major objective of these educational efforts was to publicize a different face to the non-Sikh international community who regarded the Sikhs as “terrorists.”