Zuhair Kashmeri called himself a “writer, editor, broadcaster, and dreamer.” Widely known simply as “Kash,” he was a tenacious, resourceful journalist who scored a rare interview with the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, enraged Indian officials with allegations of interference in Canada’s internal affairs and once sparked a street protest with his reporting. Canadian authorities did not escape his scrutiny either.
In hundreds of articles for this newspaper over 15 years, Mr. Kashmeri covered crime, business and financial miscreance, the Middle East, his native India and the challenges Sikhs, Muslims and visible minorities face in this country.
Notably, Mr. Kashmeri wrote extensively for this newspaper about the 1985 Air India bombing. On June 23 of that year, Air India flight 182 exploded over the southwest tip of Ireland, killing all 329 people aboard, including 268 Canadian citizens. A related bombing at Tokyo’s Narita airport at the same time killed two baggage handlers. Sikh extremists were suspected of carrying out the attacks.
His coverage of the bombing, which included suggestions that the Indian government was running an intelligence operation in Canada aimed at dividing the Sikh community, prompted a protest in front of The Globe and Mail’s Toronto offices in December, 1985.
Four years after the disasters, Mr. Kashmeri and fellow journalist Brian McAndrew explored the controversial subject further in their book, Soft Target: How the Indian Intelligence Service Penetrated Canada, which claimed that Indian spies had for years been engaged in a “devious and ruthless” operation to manipulate and destabilize Canada’s Sikh population.
India’s High Commission in Ottawa lambasted the book as “unmitigated trash,” the product of “a sick mind,” and in a colourful rebuke, said it threw “red herrings” and constituted “yellow journalism.” Then-external affairs minister Joe Clark would neither confirm nor deny the book’s allegation that three Indian diplomats had been expelled from Canada after they were caught spying.
Robert Matas, Ms. Kashmeri’s colleague at The Globe in 1980s, recalled a strong reporter who often filed exclusives, but encountered editors who were skeptical about his Air India stories, especially those about conspiracies involving the government of India. Although suggestions of Indian government involvement were never substantiated, much in his book about the infiltration of Canada’s Sikh community by Indian agents subsequently became accepted wisdom, Mr. Matas said.
Mr. Kashmeri’s work also triggered threats to his life. He and his family were placed under police protection for a time. He was harassed by callers, refused a visa to visit India and bluntly told that if he did go, he would not return alive. Indian secret service agents even interrogated Mr. Kashmeri’s aging and ailing parents in Bombay. Was the exercise worth it? “We both feel it was,” the authors wrote.
The volume’s second edition, in 2005, was subtitled The Real Story Behind the Air India Disaster, and detailed a botched investigation into the bombings by the RCMP and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service. Only a public inquiry would offer closure to the families of the victims, the authors argued presciently.
17/01/19 On Csillag/Globe and Mail