This article is credited to the New York Times.
By STEPHEN CASTLE Published on JAN. 14, 2014
LONDON — Thirty years after Indian troops stormed the Golden Temple at Amritsar, leaving hundreds dead, the British government said Tuesday that it would open an investigation after the release of documents suggesting that British special forces had helped to draw up a plan to attack the building.
The June 1984 raid on the temple, the holiest shrine for Sikhs, was intended to flush out separatists and, according to the Indian government, killed about 400 people. Sikh groups estimate that many more were killed, and the raid caused outrage among Sikhs around the world.
The internal government documents were published on a British blog, Stop Deportations, which said that they had been released under rules allowing for the publication of government records after 30 years, but that they had been “buried” beneath other documents made public on Jan. 1.
One letter, dated Feb. 6, 1984, from the office of Britain’s prime minister at the time, Margaret Thatcher, mentioned the “Indian request for advice on plans for the removal of dissident Sikhs from the Golden Temple,” adding that Mrs. Thatcher was “content that the foreign secretary should proceed as he proposes.”
Another letter, dated Feb. 23, 1984, said that the foreign secretary, Geoffrey Howe, had “decided to respond favorably to the Indian request and, with the prime minister’s agreement, an SAD officer has visited India and drawn up a plan which has been approved by Mrs. Gandhi.”
“The foreign secretary believes that the Indian government may put the plan into operation shortly,” the letter said.
Indira Gandhi was India’s prime minister at the time, and the reference to SAD appears to be a misspelling of S.A.S., which stands for Special Air Service, Britain’s elite special forces.
Whether the advice was taken, however, remains unclear. The BBC reportedthat the Indian general who led the operation, Kuldip Singh Brar, denied using British help.
“I have never heard of it before,” the BBC quoted him as saying. “As far as we are concerned, as far as the Indian Army are concerned, there was no mention of this ever.”
In a statement, the British government said that the storming of the Golden Temple “led to a tragic loss of life, and we understand the very legitimate concerns that these papers will raise.”
“The prime minister and the foreign secretary were unaware of these papers prior to publication,” the government said, referring to David Cameron and William Hague. “Any requests today for advice from foreign governments are always evaluated carefully with full ministerial oversight and appropriate legal advice.”
The government said the investigation would aim both to determine the facts of the case and whether the documents should have been released.
In a statement, the Sikh Council U.K. welcomed the inquiry, saying it continued to encourage full disclosures “so we can all understand what transpired between the two governments.”