Saturday, 8 February 2014

Has Britain sold out the Sikhs?

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Has Britain sold out the Sikhs? Summary of the inquiry.
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Has Britain sold out the Sikhs?

Many individuals, Sikh Organisations and media outlets have been leading with the story that the British Government has sold out the Sikhs and has broken the trust and loyalty that was once very strong. To hear that Britain, a country that 83,000 Sikhs died for in the World Wars, where 109,045 Sikhs were wounded, had a hand in the massacre of 20,000+ civilian Sikhs in Operation BlueStar alone has crippled the loyalty and love Sikhs once had for Britain.
 
The inquiry by Sir Jeremy Heywood and the statement given earlier in the week by Rt. Hon. William Hague some say has not put the emotional community at ease. Let’s look at the inquiry and statement in depth…..
 
On a side note: I am approaching this article with my Gursikhi hat on rather than my Tory hat. So in the following analysis I will stick to the facts and where something has not been confirmed I will state this. I was not alive in 1984 and thus will look at this from an unbias approach and pick out the important parts of the report, statement and questions. 

(I've split this e-mail into analysis of the inquiry report, Statement in House of Commons and House of Lords, and a conclusion - apologies it is long but no-where near as long as reading the 14-page actual report and the transcripts of the 3 hours of Q&A in Parliament). 

If anyone prefers to read the PDF version please see - https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B1JJhiSnyzHuNlRmS0VNbDZ3cmM/edit?usp=sharing

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Inquiry Report
 
The report starts with “The purpose of this report is not to investigate or pass judgement on those events, [Operation BlueStar]…” which is the first concern for some individuals. A lot of groups and individuals want the British Government to look into the events of Operation BlueStar and see if the attack on Sri Harmandir Sahib was justified. Now, I understand why the British Government would not want to look or pass judgement on another countries past operations, but many in the Sikh community feel that as our Government had a ‘limited role’ in the Operation they should look into the Operation BlueStar.
 
The third point clearly stated the remit of the inquiry
“To meet your remit I have looked at:
(i) why the UK Government agreed to a request from the Indian authorities to provide military advice on their contingency plans for operations at Sri Harmandir Sahib;
(ii) the nature of the UK assistance provided;
(iii) the impact of that assistance on the actual operation conducted by the Indian Army; and
(iv) whether Parliament was misled.”

The community felt this was too narrow as it was only looking at the events in June 1984 known as Operation BlueStar but the Operation, we know was pre-planned as in the desert a replica of Sri Harmandir Sahib was created and the Indian Army had been preparing different types of scenarios. There are unconfirmed reports saying the replica was made 6 months in advance of June 1984 and if this is true - was the SAS officer, who visited India in February 1984 to advise on military options, aware of this.
 
Point 4 in the report give the number of documents and files that were looked at “searched around 200 files (in excess of 23,000 documents) held by all relevant Departments covering the handling of events in Amritsar, from December 1983 (when the occupiers started to arm and fortify the complex), through to June 1984.A concern here is that 23,000 documents have been looked at and yet only an extra 5 documents have come into the public domain. Personally, I understand the explanation of why but for an individual who doesn’t know procedure and the rules on what is/isn’t allowed to be released this looks like an insufficient inquiry. (The last point, Point 24, states that “In line with the practice under successive governments we do not release information relating to the intelligence agencies or Special Forces.”)
 
Point 4 continues and says that Some military files on various operations were destroyed in November 2009.” This was done under the 25 year rule at the MoD (Ministry of Defence) on the basis that the relevant officers (under the Labour government) felt that it was not necessary to preserve or release these files. Many in the community are asking why they felt this would not be of interest and whether there was anything contained in these documents that would have shed further on the events surrounding June 1984.
Point 6 highlights the visits by Indian officials and officers in the period of December 1983 to June 1984. It gives a summary of the purpose of the individuals and whether it impacted on the attack in Sri Harmandir Sahib.
 
Point 8 through to 11 examines the question “Why did the UK provide India with advice from a military expert?”
 
Point 8 says that the military advice was given as a “response to an urgent request from the Indian Intelligence Co-ordinator” and that the agreement to the request was “based on advice from the British High Commission that it would be good for the bilateral relationship, whereas refusal would not be understood by the Indian Prime Minister, Mrs Gandhi.” Lord Singh said on BBC News earlier that regardless of the advice from the High Commission why any advice was given to attack a place of God, a Gurdwara. Point 9 looks at whether any there was consideration to offer training for such an attack. The files show that no training was given: “there is no evidence in the files that any Indian request was made, or that Ministerial permission was ever sought. Nor do officials interviewed recall any such request or offer.” Point 11 states: “The only UK request of the Indian Government, made after the visit, was for prior warning of any actual operation, so that UK authorities could make appropriate security arrangements in London. In the event, the UK received no warning from the Indian authorities of the launch of the operation.”
 
Point 12 to 14 examines the question What was the nature of the military advice? Point 13 states that the SAS officers report say that any military action should be a last resort. Point 14 explains that the SAS officer “advice given to the Indian authorities identified sufficient helicopters, and the capability to insert troops by helicopter, as critical requirements for this approach. The UK advice also focused on command and control arrangements, and night-time co-ordination of paramilitary with Indian Special Group forces. ”
 
Point 15 to 20 examines What was the impact of the UK advice? Point 15 says “There is no record in the files of any formal or detailed military debrief from Indian to UK personnel, only references to the fact that one had not been received.” Point 16 explains that the UK High Commission in Delhi reported in February that a revised plan had been approved but it is unclear whether this new plan was revised on the advice given by the SAS officer or even if Mrs Gandhi has been the SAS officer’s advice. Point 18 highlights the differences between the advice and the attack “analysis by current UK military staff confirms that there were significant differences between the actual June operation, and the advice from the UK military officer in February. In particular, the element of surprise was not at the heart of the operation. Nor was simultaneous helicopter insertion of assault forces to dominate critical areas. The paper on the operation made public by the Indian authorities on 13 June 1984 makes clear that it was a ground assault, preceded by a warning, without a helicopter-borne element, which became a step-by-step clearance supported by armour and light artillery.” Point 20 caused the most concern as it cites General Brar. General Brar has been accused of being a lead officer in the attack in Operation BlueStar and Operation Woodrose where the rape of many women was committed and many Sikhs were tortured and burned alive.
 
Point 21 and 22 examines Was Parliament misled on UK involvement?” It concludes that Parliament was not misled and that the “relevant papers on the UK military officer’s earlier visit in February, which was treated as Top Secret”
 
The report concludes it's findings as:
“(i) the UK Government did send one military officer to provide military advice on Indian contingency plans for an operation at Sri Harmandir Sahib.
(ii) This military advice was a one-off. It was not sustained.
(iii) There was no other UK military assistance, such as training or equipment, to the Indians with Operation Blue Star.
(iv) The UK Government did not link the provision of this military advice to defence sales. The decision to help was taken in response to a request for advice from a country with which the UK had – and has – a close relationship.
(v) The military advice from the UK officer had limited impact in practice. The actual operation implemented by the Indian Army differed significantly from the approach suggested by the UK military officer. ”

 
The last point, Point 24, states that “In line with the practice under successive governments we do not release information relating to the intelligence agencies or special forces.”
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Statement in HoC and HoL
 
Now looking at the statement in the House of Commons (HoC) and House of Lords (HoL) and the following questions we can see that many MPs and Peers are taking this issue seriously. 
The full session in the HoC can be seen and read here: http://share-inspiration.blogspot.co.uk/2014/02/william-hague-1984-amritsar-raid.html
while the session in the HoL can be seen and read here: http://share-inspiration.blogspot.co.uk/2014/02/baroness-warsi-lords-1984-amritsar.html.
One can also see the Prime Ministers statement post-inquiry here: http://share-inspiration.blogspot.com/2014/02/pm-david-cameron-statement-post-1984.html
 
I’m going to attempt to highlight the debate and conversation in both Houses. I won’t be able to comment on every MPs or Peers comments/question but hopefully I’ll be able to provide a flavour of the atmosphere in Parliament and highlight the best points made my MPs and Peers. Any questions which was political point scoring or that was not relevant will not be looked at.
 
William Hague’s statement highlighted that “Official Indian Government figures estimate that 575 people died. Other reports suggest that as many as 3,000 were killed, including pilgrims caught in the crossfire.” The figure of causalities has been challenged for the last 30 years and continuing to call the individuals in Sri Harmandir Sahib “Sikh dissidents” is also a stab in an open wound. An individual who speaks against the Indian Government, even today, is known as a terrorist or a dissident in India and that individual and the family are more likely to be targeted and jailed or killed on trumped up changed. Amnesty International’s report on India backs this up.
 
The statement continued stating that there is no circumstantial evidence to show British military involvement and after a search of 200 files, 23,000 document this is the conclusion of the inquiry. Some files were destroyed 5 years ago (under a Labour government) but some of the papers in this file had been copied and placed in other department folders. 5 extra documents have been published.
 
The main findings were that the advice given was as a response to an urgent request for action to regain control. It was recommended to give the advice to improve bi-lateral relationships. The single SAS officer was in India from the 8th to 17th of February. His advice was military action must be at a last resort and that any military action should be as a surprise and consists of an air attack.  The nature of the assistance was advisement only. The actual impact of the advice was different to the actual attack.
 
Martin Horwood (Liberal Democrat MP for Cheltenham) asked why some files were destroyed in 2009 and whether this was an oversight or was permission given. He also asked if a review was needed to ensure future sensitive and important documents are not destroyed. Mr Hague responded that review by Sir Alex Allan will be able to cover it and the destroying or releases of documents are not made on political basis nor is it conducted by Ministers. The 25-year rule at the MoD (or 30-year in other departments) is an official process and decisions have to be made on what to keep, destroy and release.
 
Sir Edward Garnier (Conservative MP for Harborough) asked whether the Government will consider the reaction of communities in future releases of documents. Mr Hague responded that the Sikh community’s response to the documents was understandable and justified. He also said that all surprises on Government matters cannot be avoided but this current Government wants documents to be published (and in fact want documents to be published under a new 20-year rule).
 
Sir Edward Leigh (Conservative MP for Gainsborough) asked why Britain was consulted in the first place. Mr Hague responded that India wanted expertise and that British expertise in security situations was renowned in the 80s.
 
Sir Peter Tapsell (Conservative MP for Louth and Horncastle – also the Father of the House meaning either oldest MP or longest serving MP) said
“May I add to the answer to the spontaneous question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh)? It is difficult for the present generation to realise how close our relationships with India still were at that time. My father and grandfather were both born in India, and I knew Indira Gandhi very well. I visited her a fortnight before she was assassinated at her home, after the Golden Temple disaster, and asked her whether she was wise to be surrounded by the Sikh bodyguard, who looked magnificent in their uniforms. She said that they were absolutely loyal to her, that some of them had served her father, and that if she were to get rid of them it would be regarded throughout India as an insult to the other Sikhs. There was nothing sinister at all about Britain, and many Brits at various levels, being asked for advice during that terrible period.”
 
Rob Wilson (Conservative MP for Reading) asked about full disclosure of any information regarding the custody, interrogation, torture, disappearance and murder of thousands of Sikhs in 1984. Mr Hague responded that it is understandable that the Sikh community should raise those events, however as they were predominantly within India Britain are not able to inquire into the Indian Government’s actions.
 
Mark Pritchard (Conservative MP for The Wrekin) asked that Members opposite (Labour and opposition MPs) are dissuaded in making this a party political issue rather than a pursuit for truth. Mr Hague responded in agreement that this issue is about seeking the truth and not gaining political points.
 
Chris Williamson (Labour MP for Derby North) asked about a judge-led inquiry and whether the Government would consider this approach which will help enable Parliament to determine whether an apology is appropriate. Mr Hague responded that “people might be interested in other, related issues beyond the scope of the investigation—it is wholly legitimate for them to pursue them—but on the nature of British involvement in the events leading up to June 1984, I think the Cabinet Secretary’s report gives a clear answer.”
 
The House of Lords discussion was a lot different. It was very respectful, less political point scoring and the elders in particular had a lot of respect for the Sikhs (you could tell from their voice). A lot of the discussion was on the destroying of documents and whether this was correct procedure and what can be done in future to ensure these documents are not destroyed.
 
A key question was raised by Lord Elystan-Morgan (Cross Bench Peer)
“My Lords, both the Minister and the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, referred to the Amritsar massacre of 1919. Does the Minister accept that this House is very intimately and embarrassingly connected with that massacre, in that after it took place a resolution was passed in this House—I believe unanimously—congratulating Brigadier-General Dyer on his distinguished conduct? Of course, I appreciate the apology made very properly by the Prime Minister some time ago, but has the time not now come when that blot on the escutcheon of this noble and honourable House should be removed?” Baroness Warsi responded
“My Lords, I think that particular discussion would go beyond the remit of the Statement today. I go back to what I said before; I had an opportunity to visit Jallianwala Bagh. In many ways, this is much more personal to me than it may be to other noble Lords in the House as I am deeply connected to it in terms of my own family connections back to the Punjab. What the Prime Minister did in both visiting Jallianwala Bagh and saying what he said meant a lot to people—and certainly to my grandmother, who is still alive. History always judges matters in a different way but the Prime Minister has certainly tried to put the record straight.”
 
The Lord Bishop of Chester raised an important point. He asked about whether one of the lessons that should be learnt is that Government should learn to better understand religious sensitivities. Baroness Warsi responded that it was right to understand the sentiments within the British Sikh community and the significance of the attack on Sri Harmandir Sahib. She also said that this is a challenge in a sometimes aggressively secular world and some of these sensitivities are not properly explored or understood. 
Conclusion
 
In conclusion, this report and the following questions was an in depth in looking at ‘British involvement in June 1984.’ It showed that Britain responded to a request for military advice and that one SAS officer travelled to India to give this advice. A summary of the SAS officers report has been given but as stated in Point 24 of the report “In line with the practice under successive governments we do not release information relating to the intelligence agencies or special forces.”
Yes this is not a review into the mechanics of Operation BlueStar or the surrounding months of June 1984 and the wider events on 1984 were not looking into. Some, understandably, will be disappointed.

Considering the questions asked in the HoC, one can say that the most searching questions came from Conservative MPs. In the HoL there was a lot of respect for this issue, many members stayed seating throughout this discussion and many questions/comments were raised.
 
Some questions raised post-inquiry which I’d like to highlight the relevant parts of the statement/report which will shed light on some answers:
  1. Why the review did not look at Operation Sundown involving the possible advice and training input of an SAS officer on the kidnapping of Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale from the Sri Harmandir Sahib Complex.
Mr Hague stated that “One of the questions raised is whether there could have been British military involvement in subsequent Operations Black Thunder I and II. From everything that the Cabinet Secretary has seen, having examined hundreds of files—200 files—the answer to that is no.”
  1. Why the review did not look at broader events of 1984 such as Operation Woodrose which was designed to crush public protest. Unconfirmed reports say around 100,000 were taken into custody, interrogated, tortured and even killed. Also, why was there no mention on the events in November 1984
Mr Hague said “the Prime Minister asked the Cabinet Secretary to investigate the specific events—whether there had been UK involvement in the specific events leading up to and during Operation Blue Star in June 1984—and the time frame was therefore from the start of what happened at the location in question in December 1983 to the Indian operation in June 1984.” which I’m assuming was a direct response to the first two documents dated February 1984.
  1. Whether the disclosure of other documents relating to the Sikhs be made public sooner
Mr Hague said: “The relevant documents—those that can be published while, as I have said, upholding the publication principles that all British Government have always observed—that relate specifically to Operation Blue Star have been published. There will of course be publication over the coming years of many more documents concerning British relations with India at the time. I certainly do not want to suggest that no more documents will be published that can shed light on relations between Britain and India through the 1980s.” meaning that future documents may come into light after their 30-year period is over but, as I understand it, “upholding the publication principles that all British Government have always observed” means they cannot publish documents early.
 
My question to the Sikh nation - what is our long term plan? We are asking for truth and transparency but what exact questions do we want answered that would satisfy us? Are we willing to stay open minded and not get 2 + 2 and make 5? Are we willing to create a proactive relationship with the Government and respective parties or will we forever be anti-government. There are many questions that we need answering but we need to ask the right people and the right Government.
 
As a Sikh Nation, we have many different groups with different agendas and political pull, but we should have one realistic goal – get the British Government to recognize 1984 as Genocide. We can’t ask (or expect) a review into Operation BlueStar or any other Operation and events in 1984. We cannot ask for our Government to pass judgement on the past actions of another Government. But we could ask for this issue to be looked at in terms of the mis-leading official report and the number of casualties to be looked at and for our Government to declare it as Genocide.

In my opinion, the only way we can achieve this is by building up a database of where those who were alive in 1984 can share their stories via video, audio, written statement, sworn statements or diaries. In another 10 years’ time, those who experience that attacks will no longer be with us and we need to preserve their story, we need to preserve our history and most importantly, we need to have it on record so no-one can dispute what actually happened. 

Bhul Chuk Maf (Apologies for any mistakes)

Waheguru!
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