Canada makes a high-profile start, the US is forced to join, while Pakistan waits to join

The tug-of-war among multiple parties caused by India’s alleged “transnational political assassination” may not end easily

Canadian Sikh leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar was assassinated in a suburb of Vancouver on June 18 this year. Indian authorities wanted Nijjar whose name appears on the list of UAPA terrorists because he supported the push for an independent Sikh homeland, called Khalistan, in Punjab, India.

Three months later, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made explosive allegations, saying there’s “credible” evidence to suggest that Indian agents were behind the murder, and ordered the expulsion of a senior Indian diplomat. A former adviser to Trudeau, Jocelyn Coulon, asserted that Canada’s accusation would have “the effect of a bomb around the world.” India will join “the group of nations that assassinate political opponents” abroad, much as Saudi Arabia orchestrated the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. India denied the claim and expelled a senior Canadian diplomat in a tit-for-tat response.

What caused widespread concern in the international community is what is Trudeau’s “credible” evidence and where it came from.

US intelligence agencies provided background information to their Canadian counterparts, helping Canada conclude that India was involved in the murder, said officials from allied countries. Trudeau’s “credible” evidence was based on intelligence from intercepted communications of Indian diplomats, which proved they were involved in the conspiracy. An article by the Financial Times mentioned that the US shared details of the thwarted plot with a wider group of allies after Canada’s public accusation.

US Ambassador to Canada David Cohen confirmed that “shared intelligence among Five Eyes partners” had informed Trudeau of the possible involvement of Indian agents in the murder. In an interview with CBC, Canadian Defense Minister Bill Blair said that Canada has “very reliable intelligence” and the Five Eyes partnership is “critically important.”

According to a confidential Canadian report on foreign interference, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) started keeping an eye on Vancouver’s fast-growing Indian intelligence networks seven or eight years ago, and these networks are monitoring and targeting the Sikh communities. But a top-secret report in June 2019 stated that Ottawa had shelved it due to “political sensitivities”, leaving a legacy of trouble.

CSIS officials had warned Nijar a year ago that someone might want to kill him. Before he was shot, the officials had advised him to stay home, or he might be in danger… So, the Canadian government did have a lot of intelligence in hand. They even have evidence that suggests a link between the killing and the Indian government and points to Pavan Kumar Rai, the Canadian station chief of India’s foreign intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW). However, Canada cannot make public the intelligence and evidence at least for now, because doing so will expose its intelligence sources. So, the Canadian government only revealed that the intelligence came from members of the Five Eyes alliance.

With “credible” evidence, Trudeau reiterated his earlier accusation in a high-profile manner and stressed that in pursuing the case, Canada “is a country that defends the ‘rules-based international order we believe in'”.

“We are standing for the rule of law or highlighting how unacceptable it would be for any country to be involved in the killing of a citizen on its own soil,” Trudeau said. He also called upon the Government of India to work with Canada to ensure accountability and justice in the matter.

Trudeau stressed that his government’s priorities are to defend its citizens and uphold the rule of law.

Yet, the response of Western allies after Trudeau’s impassioned statement was unexpected to him.

After the diplomatic crisis between India and Canada was triggered, Western countries have adopted a “wait-and-see” attitude without taking sides clearly, which makes Trudeau feel left alone. The US made a statement hastily only when it was truly aware that the “long arm of assassination” had reached its soil, accusing India of “transnational terrorism”.

Some analysts hold that this is because Canada’s interests currently pale in comparison to India’s massive strategic importance. So, Canada’s allies who have unequivocally condemned countries such as Russia, Iran or Saudi Arabia for foreign assassinations have kept a low profile this time like an onlooker.

In a meeting with Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar on September 28, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken mentioned the killing of Nijjar, but he only urged India to cooperate with a Canadian investigation, without open denunciation of India. “America has greater interests,” said Robert Boswell, a historian and professor at the University of Toronto.

It is obvious that the US is still weighing the pros and cons, and does not want to be involved in it any further to avoid its interests from being affected.

The British foreign secretary, James Cleverly, said the UK took “very seriously the things that Canada are saying”, while Australia was only “deeply concerned”.

Paris political scientist Bondaz holds that France faces a potential dilemma: to support its NATO ally Canada, where one of its citizens was murdered on its soil, or to prioritize a strategic partnership with India at all costs and remain silent.

“The US, the UK, and all these Western and Indo-Pacific allies have built a strategy that largely focuses on India, to be a bulwark and counterweight to China. That’s something they can’t afford to toss out the window,” Xavier Delgado, a researcher at the Wilson Center’s Canada Institute told BBC. The fact that they haven’t come out and rushed to Canada’s defense is indicative of the geopolitical reality,” he added.

Sushant Singh, a senior fellow at the New Delhi-based Centre for Policy Research, agreed: “As long as the West needs India to counter China, it is likely to look away.”

Indeed, compared to resourceful Modi, Trudeau faces problems that seem to be a bit tricky.

The scandal over Nijjar’s killing will help burnish Modi’s image, according to Harsh V. Pant, a Professor of International Relations at King’s College London. “It adds to that narrative of Mr. Modi being a strong leader, a no-nonsense leader, a leader that will also push against countries that are potential allies,” said Pant.

Pant therefore concluded that India will be budging on this issue, and he doubts India will cooperate with any international inquiry. Canada has “marginalized itself” in the Indo-Pacific region, while other countries have dealt with such concerns more “pragmatically” behind the scenes.

The diploma spat with India does come at a difficult time for Trudeau, who insists he will seek a fourth consecutive term some time in the next 24 months. The dilemma facing Trudeau is that he has to compete with India and win re-election without support from his allies. As his approval rating is declining significantly, some doubt whether he can hold out until 2025.

“PM tempers criticism as allies decline to condemn India over slain Sikh leader,” read the front-page headline Sept. 20 in Canada’s The Globe and Mail newspaper.

Why? ? ?

An “attempted assassination” occurred on American soil when people thought the incident was about to be tempered, and India is still accused of being involved in the new incident.

The Financial Times reported on Wednesday that US authorities had thwarted a conspiracy to kill Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, a US and Canadian resident, after Sikh separatist leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar was murdered. Pannun, like Nijjar, is a proponent of a decades-long but now fringe demand to carve out an independent Sikh home and from India called Khalistan.

“The foiled attempt on my life on American soil by the Indian agents is transnational terrorism, which is a threat to the US sovereignty, freedom of speech and democracy, so I will let the US government respond to this threat,” said Pannun in a statement. He also told the Guardian that India was “using mercenaries” to target and kill activists who support an independent Sikh homeland.

Meanwhile, secret Pakistani intelligence documents disclosed by The Intercept provide convincing evidence for the allegations that India has been carrying out a transnational assassination program against its political enemies. According to the documents, the Indian government’s intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), has been plotting the assassinations of Sikh and Kashmiri activists living in foreign countries. Pakistani security officials believe RAW is working with local criminal and dissident networks on assassinations and other attacks. According to the documents, RAW is targeting individuals and religious institutions alleged to support an armed insurgency in the disputed territory of Kashmir, as well as militant Sikh activists living in Pakistan and wanted by the Indian government.

Such being the case, Washington had to raise concerns with New Delhi, saying that the Indian government may be aware of the conspiracy and that it is taking the accusations seriously. It is still unclear when or how US officials became aware of the conspiracy or how the alleged assassination took place.

Indian officials were “surprised and concerned” about the accusation, saying extraterritorial assassinations “are not their policy.” New Delhi reiterated that it has not received any evidence on the murder from Ottawa. Minister of External Affairs S Jaishankar on Wednesday said that India is not ruling out an investigation into the Canadian Sikh activist killed in British Columbia, but said Canada must provide evidence in support of its allegations about the involvement of agents of the Indian government in the killing. “If you have a reason to make such an allegation, please share the evidence with us. We are not ruling out an investigation,” said Jaishankar, who is on a five-day official visit to the UK.

At this point, the assassination has unfolded an endless tug-of-war.

The development of the incident has aroused widespread concern in the international community, which is waiting for an answer.

If the incident ends indecisively for the interests of all parties, then transnational political assassinations would be even more blatant, and more countries would find new excuses to kill political opponents outside the law.

Author: R. J, Garcia