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After Trudeau’s unsubstantiated attack, India has a chance to rebuff bullying by the Anglosphere

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau with the US President Joe Biden in Ottawa, earlier this year (Image courtesy: Twitter/@POTUS)

The Canada-India standoff over the killing of Khalistani separatist Hardeep Singh Nijjar is becoming more serious. India is making it clear that it is no longer willing to tolerate the Trudeau government’s unwillingness to curb the activities of Khalistani groups on its soil meant to disturb peace in Punjab. The extraordinary step taken by Trudeau to accuse India formally in parliament of complicity in Nijjar’s murder has proved to be the last straw on the back of the Indian camel.

India has done nothing to hurt Canada’s interests. It is Canada that has been hurting India’s interests since long by sheltering Sikh extremists on its soil and allowing them to conduct activities that violate India’s security and territorial integrity. It has been unreceptive to India’s repeated protests. Trudeau has chosen to project Canada as a victim of India’s action that breaches Canadian sovereignty and the rule of law, whereas it is India that has been victim of Canada’s actions to protect Khalistani elements from as far back as the 1980s, from the time of Pierre Trudeau, the father of the current Canadian Prime Minister.

It is not for Canada to decide how seriously India should take the mounting activity of Khalistani extremists in Canada and, indeed, the other members of the so-called intelligence sharing Five Eyes countries (US, UK, Australia and New Zealand). Canada can have its notions of freedom of speech and right to protest peacefully, but India has the right to protest if these rights are used, under protection of Canadian law and political “values”, to promote violence in India, as also against Indian missions and diplomats in Canada.

Trudeau has sought a confrontation with India. He claims that he raised the issue of Nijjar’s murder in “no uncertain terms” with Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the G 20 meeting. The language itself is aggressive. He was not only cold-shouldered; the Ministry of External Affairs issued a statement on the conversation that chides Canada for allowing anti-India activities on its soil. Knowing that India at the highest level had already rejected his démarche, he decided to up the ante by raising the issue of suspected Indian involvement, and the need for India to cooperate in the investigation of Nijjar’s murder, in the Canadian parliament.

This is almost a point of no return. Trudeau is now obliged to prove his “credible allegations” and expose the “potential link” with agents of India. His own political credibility requires this. Already the opposition leader, Poilievre, is saying that Trudeau has not given any proof in his statement in parliament, and that even in private he has not said anything beyond what he stated there. Poilievre has acknowledged that a failure to provide evidence would carry great risks for Canada.

India Canada
PM Narendra Modi with Canadian counterpart Justin Trudeau during G20 Summit in New Delhi, earlier this month

Already, the India-Canada ties have begun to slowly collapse. Canada has expelled an Indian diplomat (which conveys that India is culpable) and India has in return expelled a Canadian diplomat. Canada has issued a travel advisory on India. In return India has strongly cautioned Indians, including students, about security conditions in Canada. The tough language used in our advisory is normally reserved for Pakistan. India has gone a step further in suspending issuance of visas by our missions in Canada, which means that Canadians will not be able to travel to India in the foreseeable future. This uncertainty of travel and the general political atmosphere developing is likely to affect Indian students planning to enroll themselves in Canadian universities. India is also seeking some equivalence in number of diplomats stationed in either country (Canada has more diplomats in India than India has in Canada). The Canadian mission has sought security for its diplomats in view of threats the mission has received on social media.

Trudeau has counted on support from his Five Eyes partners to generate pressure on India on the Nijjar issue. After the US National Security Council spokesperson stated that the US was talking to India at senior levels about the case and that there was no question of rebuffing Canada as was being speculated, the US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan has waded into the issue in language demeaning towards India. US, he said, is coordinating with Canada on the issue, is raising the issue with the India at the highest levels, there is no special exemption of any country in such a case, there has to be accountability, and that the US will stand unyielding by its principles that extend to every country.

Sullivan has done solid work to promote India-US ties and is well regarded in Indian security circles. Why he wants to undo some of it by such rhetoric is difficult to understand. He is encouraging Trudeau to follow the course he has taken with US support. Has India sought any “special exemption” from the US? Is India subject to US law? As regards principles, some may retort by reminding the US of violating its own principles repeatedly by killing Osama bin Laden, Qassem Soleimani, Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Baghdadi, Mullahs Fazlullah and Mansour etc. on foreign soil. Why does he want to enter into polemics? One can understand his compulsion to support Canada, which is its dutiful ally, and also strike a posture before the media, but why be so tactless?

Secretary of State Blinken has also turned the India-Canadian confrontation on the Nijjar case a bilateral India-US matter, expressing his deep concern about the allegations made by Trudeau, stating that the US and Canada are coordinating on the issue, and that it was important for India to work with the Canadians in investigations. He did not see the irony of his remark that the US is “extremely vigilant about any alleged instance of transnational repression” and that “it’s important more broadly for the international system that any country that any country engaging in such acts not do so”.

Again, one can understand the US desire to back any ally, but what is the basis of the assumption that India is involved, when Prime Minister has rejected Trudeau’s allegations and the External Affairs Ministry has stated that no specific information has been shared by Canada with India on the case?

The Anglosphere is being mobilised by Canada. Australia has waded into the issue, as has the UK, though they have been less censorious. The Australian Foreign Minister was repeatedly quizzed by the media at the UN on the issue, but she hedged her position and refused to comment whether the issue was discussed at the G 7 meeting. The idea that this issue merited discussion in the G 7 shows how much the anti-Indian lobbies want to arraign India. The irony in all this is the utter duplicity of Trudeau who in August 2022 hailed the assassination of Ayman al-Zawahiri, claiming hypocritically that “Canada will keep working with our global partners to counter terrorist threats…keep people…around the world safe”. Is India not seen as a global partner of Canada and its people, in Trudeau’s world view, do not have a right to feel safe?

The Anglosphere is now manipulating the media to espouse Canada’s claim of an Indian hand in the murder of Nijjar. Instead of offering evidence, the story now is that there is human, technical and signal intelligence available, including that obtained from a Five Eyes member, which implicates India. Since intelligence information and the means to obtain it are not made public to protect sources and capability, this rests a grey area in which assertions can be made without the necessity to provide proof.

That India may be paying the price of its G 20 success, its leadership of the Global South, the frustration felt by the G7 that it could not obtain a condemnation of Russia in the G 20 Leaders Declaration because of India’s efforts to promote a compromise language, not to mention Trudeau’s pique at being ignored at the G 20 summit by the host, are points that need to be considered to explain this concerted attack on India on behalf of a known terrorist sheltered by Canada.

This is a chance for India to remain very firm and convey categorically to the Anglosphere that it will no longer be bullied.

(Kanwal Sibal is India’s former Foreign Secretary and Ambassador to Russia. Views expressed are personal and exclusive to India Narrative)

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