Worldview with Suhasini Haidar | Jaishankar in U.S. | Where do India and Canada stand now?

Worldview with Suhasini Haidar | Jaishankar in U.S. | Where do India and Canada stand now?

In this episode of Worldview, we discuss what is the fallout of continuing tensions between Delhi and Ottawa over the killing of a Khalistani separatist leader

As External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar made his way to New York for the UN General Assembly and Washington DC for meetings with the U.S. this week, was Canada the new elephant in the room, as China and Pakistan often are?

Hello and Welcome to World View at The Hindu with me Suhasini Haidar- we will also examine the charge of covert assassination operations worldwide 

More than a week after Canadian PM Justin Trudeau made his speech in parliament, practically accusing India of ordering an extra-judicial, transnational killing of a Khalistani separatist leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar, there’s been a worsening of ties between Delhi and Ottawa. 

First, the latest: 

1.     Both New Delhi and Ottawa have doubled down, with Canada making it clear it has shared what it believes is evidence linking India to the murder of Nijjar with its Five Eyes allies US UK Australia and New Zealand, whereas India has denied the allegation, and denied it has received any evidence. 

2.     The leader of Canadian NDP, Jagmeet Singh, who is a coalition partner of Trudeau’s Liberal Party said that he had received a briefing on the killing, and claimed the charges were credible. Note that Singh was denied a visa to visit India in 2013, given his criticism of India on Human Rights violations and support to Khalistani supporters in Canada.  

3.     Reports about CCTV footage of the killings said that in all 6 men in 2 cars had carried out the killing of Nijjar as he left a Gurudwara in Surrey outside Vancouver on June 18. Other reports said that Canada and the US have shared evidence of “communication intercepts” between Indian diplomats, indicating they had been under some kind of surveillance 

4.     After expelling diplomats and planning to downsize missions, India and Canada have exchanged travel advisories for their citizens travelling to each other’s countries – indicating a greater strain on people to people ties- remember, there are more than 1.4 million people of Indian origin in Canada, 226,000 students and each side issues about 200,000-300,000 visas a year 

 5.     As Canada paused free trade talks, tensions may hit  lentils or dal- as Indian importers have raised concerns. Canada is the world’s largest exporter of lentils, whereas India is the world’s largest importer, getting more than half of its lentil imports from Canada. 

6.     The accusations both have levelled hit the international stage this week: as PM Trudeau, and EAM Jaishankar were in New York. 

While Trudeau, who battled a different scandal all week, after he and the Canadian parliament gave a standing ovation to a Ukrainian fighter who turned out to be a former Nazi war veteran, said that he still hopes India will cooperate in the investigation. Meanwhile EAM Jaishankar said…India still awaits credible evidence- listen to his exchange with a journalist at the Council for Foreign Relations. 

At the United Nations General Assembly- where it is normally India and Pakistan that spar each year- Jaishankar and the Canadian UN Ambassador Robert Rae threw veiled digs at the other. 

Rob Rae: “We also have to uphold the values of free and democratic societies. We cannot bend the rules of state to state relations for political expediency. Because we have seen and continue to see the extent to which democracies are under threat through various means of foreign interference. But the truth is, if we don’t adhere to the rules that we have agreed to, the very fabric of our open and free societies will start to tear.”

Jaishankar: “Nor must we countenance that political convenience determines responses to terrorism, extremism and violence. Similarly, respect for territorial integrity and non-interference in internal affairs cannot be exercises in cherry picking”

As Mr. Jaishankar travelled to Washington, the questions over Canada’s allegations followed. 

What’s next? 

1. All eyes are now Canada- that must prove its allegations. According to officials, releasing evidence would harm the prosecution’s case, indicating the trial would begin as soon as the investigation is completed 

2. For the Modi government – the focus is on denial of any wrongdoing, and also some diplomatic damage control with mutual friends of India and Canada. In the US, EAM Jaishankar met with Secretary of State Tony  Blinken, and NSA Jake Sullivan. And at the UN was part of a Quad FM meeting, also meeting separately with counterparts from UK, Japan, Australia and other countries like Mexico. 

3. Beyond that- EAM Jaishankar and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh will host their US counterparts Blinken and Austin in the first half of November in Delhi to discuss the full gamut of bilateral ties. And US President Biden has been invited to Republic Day in January 2024- with Japan PM Kishida and Australian PM Albanese expected to visit around that time for the Quad Summit as well.   

4. India also received support from its neighbours, as Sri Lankan FM Sabry pointed out that Canada has a past record in what he called the “outrageous allegations”

While Bangladesh has pointed to the fact that Canada was a home for the murderers of Bangladesh founder Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, who was assassinated along with most of his family in 1975. 

5. Pakistan, as would be expected, backs Canada and has called for action against India It remains to be seen whether Canada, a member of NATO, G-7 and the Five Eyes is able to muster up support from its partners once its investigation concludes. Remember in similar cases in the past, here’s what western allies have done:

 -When Russia was accused of poisoning former agent Skripal and his daughter in the UK in 2018, more than 25 countries including Canada expelled 153 Russian diplomats from their capitals 

-China too has been accused to targeting its dissidents in other countries like Canada, US and UK, but thus far has not faced similar action 

-In 2010, when UAE accused Israeli Mossad agents of murdering Mahmoud Al Mahbouh, the founder of the Hamas’s military wing, in Dubai, a number of countries condemned the operation, but no action was taken against Israel- despite the fact that the killers used British, Canadian, and Irish passports 

-The attack on an Israeli diplomat in Delhi, and similar bombings in Tblisi and Thai led to a huge outcry from Israel- while Iran denied involvement, it was believed to be reprisal for killings of Iranian scientists and IRGC officials in Iran

 -The US has claimed responsibility for killings of many operatives abroad, including Iranian General Soleimani in Baghdad in 2020, US National wanted for terror attacks Anwar Awlaki in Yemen in 2011, Saudi National and Al Qaeda terror chief Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan, and a number of others in Afghanistan, Pakistan, South America and Africa. 

WV Take: 

Given other international incidents of transnational and extra judicial killings, the allegations against India by Canadian PM Trudeau are not new, and there is a double standard in the West’s reaction to them. Even so, the EAM’s statement that this is not Indian Government policy is significant, and indicates India does not approve of them.  While diplomatic posturing and rhetoric have marked the last few days of the India-Canada row over the killing of Nijjar, there is a need for facts and verifiable evidence to emerge. Before the two countries hurtle down a path of spiralling relations, the attempt on both sides must be to arrest the tensions, clear the air, and find a way to resolve the issues, both historical and of the present between them. 

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