India’s denial of its involvement in the killing of Khalistan separatist Hardeep Singh Nijjar in Canada has bitterly strained the relation between two countries, but more importantly, it has failed to convince its strategic partner USA of its stated position on the issue.
If what the US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told on Friday at a press meet is any indicator, it would not be inappropriate to construe that US President Joe Biden reposes more trust in Canadian allegation than the Indian denial. This lack of trust in Indian clarification offered by the ministry of external affairs gets clearly mirrored in the statement of Sullivan; “I have seen in the press some efforts to try to drive a wedge between the United States and Canada on this issue. And I firmly reject the idea that there is a wedge between the U.S. and Canada. We have deep concerns about the allegations, and we would like to see this investigation carried forward and the perpetrators held to account. That is what the United States has stood for from the moment this emerged in public, and we will continue to stand for that until this fully plays its way out.”
Sullivan could have preferred to hide behind diplomatic jargons, if the Biden administration believed in what India said and obviously would have stood behind it. The statement of Sullivan did not have any element of ambiguity. This is borne in his observation; “As soon as we heard from the Canadian Prime Minister publicly about the allegations, we went out publicly ourselves and expressed our deep concern about them, our support for a law enforcement process to get to the bottom of exactly what happened and to ensure that the perpetrators are held accountable”
Sullivan was categorical; “I’m not going to get into the substance of private diplomatic conversations, but we are in constant contact with our Canadian counterparts. We are consulting with them closely, we support the efforts that they are undertaking in this investigation, and we have also been in touch with the Indian government as well”.
Sullivan’s remarks make it absolutely clear that though the Biden administration would certainly not like to strain its relation with India, but the feeling of coziness that existed just before this uneasy situation, would not be there to guide the future relations. No doubt Biden administration has put high stakes in building up a strong and operative bipartite relation with India, as it aimed at serving its interest in the Asia Pacific zone and counter the spread of China in the region, but India, despite being an useful ally in South Asia may not be able to prevail on the US not to support the Canadian position. This is nothing but a major set back for the Narendra Modi government, and more precisely for Modi, the person, in the attempt to have Biden endorse India’s stand.
Though it is still a long walk, the strained relation between Canada and India appears to have cast its shadow on the Modi government’s plan to invite Biden as the guest on Republic Day. Sullivan’s remarks in this regard are quite important. He said; “we are in continuous communication and consultation with the Canadian government. And we will remain so as we go forward. And I do not have anything to announce about travel by the President to India in January or at any other time today.”
It cannot be denied that Canada is more precious for US than India. Take the Ukraine crisis as the test case. While India has been simply offering lip service to Ukraine, Canada has been providing every help, even military to it. Only on Friday while addressing the Canadian parliament, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said at a time when Russia is committing genocide in his country, Canada has been rendering every help. He said; “Canada’s support for Ukraine with weapons and equipment has allowed us to save thousands, thousands of lives. This includes air defence systems, armoured vehicles, artillery shells, and very significant assistance in de-mining”.
During his first visit to Canada since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, Zelenskyy spoke in front of a packed House with all MPs in attendance as well as senators, senior bureaucrats and foreign dignitaries. Significantly he called upon other countries to turn away from “dubious” Russian energy that Putin has come to wield as a weapon. “Russia uses nuclear power plants, like gas and oil, for political attacks against the sovereignty of other nations. Russia is trying to break the sovereignty of others through its manipulation of energy resources,” he said. According to him Russia was using energy as weapon against sovereignties.
Indian government has adopted a tough stance against Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for his allegation of an Indian hand in the killing of Nijjar, but the Biden administration has taken it very seriously as the accusation has come not from a junior minister or a bureaucrat instead it has been levelled by the top executive of Canada. It is also being questioned; what benefit Trudeau would accrue by levelling this nature of allegation against India.
If the sources are to be believed the issue had cropped up during the one-to-one meeting of Modi and Trudeau at G 20 meet in Delhi. Biden has also discussed this issue with Modi. The apprehension that the foreign media would raise this issue at the joint press meet of Modi and Biden, had primarily forced the Indian government not to agree to a wide-ranging press interaction.
While most of the national media has been trying to twist the facts, Sullivan is firm in his stand. He said; “We have deep concerns about the allegations, and we would like to see this investigation carried forward and the perpetrators held to account. That is what the United States has stood for from the moment this emerged in public, and we will continue to stand for that until this fully plays its way out.” Significantly replying to a question whether this controversy would strain the ties between New Delhi and Washington, Sullivan said: “It is a matter of concern for us. It is something we take seriously. It’s something we will keep working on, and we will do that regardless of the country. There is not some special exemption you get for actions like this. Regardless of the country, we will stand up and defend our basic principles. And we will also consult closely with allies like Canada as they pursue their law enforcement and diplomatic process”.
The crisis has arisen at a delicate moment for western countries as they have been busy identifying India as a rising military, trade and technological counterweight to an increasingly assertive China and treat it as their friend. Speculations are rife in the political circles that with Modi government strengthening its ties with Israel, the Indian intelligence agencies have been sharing intelligence with Israel’s secret service Mossad about radical Islamist groups, and adopting a more aggressive approach to counter-terrorism. That reorientation has extended to operations abroad, which the former Indian spymaster AS Dulat described in his recent memoir as the “Doval doctrine”, named after Ajit Doval, Modi’s powerful national security adviser.
For Narendra Modi, the Canadian affair has come at the most inappropriate time when he was basking in the glory of his ‘success’ in G-20 summit and the BJP leaders and RSS were trumpeting the PM as ‘Vishwaguru”. Canada has four other allies in it joint intelligence network including, USA, UK, Australia and New Zealand. The US is most important as far as India is concerned. It now depends on our PM to prove that he possesses the diplomatic strategic prowess to persuade the US President to see the Indian position. If he fails, things will take a nasty course jeopardizing the edifice of India’s relations with the West. (IPA Service)