View From India | Glitches in India-US ties over an ‘assassination plot’

Updated - December 05, 2023 09:56 am IST

Published - December 04, 2023 03:40 pm IST

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U.S.-India relations saw fresh tensions last week over an alleged plot to kill Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, a U.S.-based Sikh separatist wanted on terror charges in India. The U.S. unsealed an indictment on November 30 blaming an unnamed Indian intelligence official for plotting to kill Pannun, who last month asked Sikhs not to fly in Air India aircraft after November 19. According to the indictment, the Indian official enlisted an individual named Nikhil Gupta, who would then hire a hitman to kill Pannun. It also suggests a link between the alleged plot targeting Pannun and the killing of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, which Canada has accused the Indian government agents of masterminding. Nikhil Gupta “conspired from India to assassinate, right here in New York, a US citizen of Indian origin who was publicly advocated for the establishment of sovereign state for Sikhs,” reads the indictment.

According to American media reports, the hit man who Gupta hired was a U.S. undercover agent, and high-level Biden officials had taken up this issue with the Indians soon after the ‘plot’ was uncovered. Mr. Gupta was arrested in Czech Republic on June 30 and is being held pending extradition proceedings to the U.S. (The U.S. has an extradition agreement with Czech Republic.) India has set up a “high-level” committee to inquire into the U.S. allegation, which the Ministry of External Affairs said was a “matter of concern”. When Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau blamed Indian government agents for the killing of Nijjar in September, India had dismissed the allegation as “absurd”. But now, with the U.S. indictment, New Delhi is visibly under pressure. “We have said, and let me reiterate, that this [hit job] is contrary to government policy,” MEA spokesperson Arindam Bagchi told reporters in Delhi last week.

Pannun, a dual U.S.-Canada citizen, has been running online campaigns for years targeting Indian politicians and demanding a separatist state for Sikhs. This plot to kill controversy has put him at the centre of a brewing crisis with bilateral implications. In this profile, “Online tiger”, Kallol, Bhattacherjee is tracing Pannun’s anti-India activism and the controversies around him.

Collapse of truce

A week-long pause in Israel’s bombardment of Gaza came to a half last week after both Israel and Hamas blamed each other for the violation of the terms. Israel resumed bombing the enclave of 2.3 million people, killing more Palestinians. Over 15,000 Palestinians, a vast majority of them women and children, have already been killed in Israel’s onslaught on the enclave. Israel seems to be expanding its offensive towards the southern Gaza. Earlier, Israeli attacks had forced over a million Palestinians to evacuate from northern Gaza and move towards the south. Now, southern towns are being targeted. The UN has repeatedly called for a ceasefire, saying the humanitarian condition of Gaza is “catastrophic”. The U.S., which continues to back Israel’s military offensive, has also warned Israel against targeting Palestinian civilians. Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin said on Sunday that if Israel “continues to drive Palestinian civilians into the enemy’s hands, it will “face a tactical victory with a strategic defeat”. But Israel maintains that it will continue its military offensive until Hamas is dismantled.

The war has brought Hamas, the Islamist militants who used to run Gaza, under sharp focus. We had profiled the group recently. In this latest profile, we look into Hamas’s top leadership—both the operatives in Gaza and the political actors based in Qatar—The men who run Hamas.

Death of a diplomat

Henry Kissinger, the controversial former National Security Adviser and Secretary of State of the U.S. under Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, died on November 29 at age 100. Kissinger was one of the most influential yet polarising figures of American diplomacy in the 20th century. While he was hailed by his supporters for the naked pursuit of American interests during the Cold War, while detractors focus on the humanitarian toll of his policies, particularly in Vietnam and Cambodia, and his embrace of ruthless dictators, from Pakistan’s Yahya Khan to Chile’s Augusto Pinochet. Kissinger, who was instrumental in the Nixon administration’s support for Pakistan’s military regime during the Bangladesh crisis in 1971, had a complicated relationship with India.

U.S. diplomatic documents declassified earlier had shown how Kissinger and Nixon broke an American arms ban on Pakistan and ensured Islamabad received air support from third countries like Jordan, write Kallol Battacherjee on how Kissinger helped Pakistan during the Bangladesh liberation war. The documents from the NSA Archives also included the famous Blood Telegram, the message from U.S. Consul General Archer Blood in Dhaka, which pointed out that the silence of the U.S. in the face of Pakistani killings in Dhaka and the countryside depicted the American administration in poor light in comparison to the Soviet Union that had called upon Yahya Khan to respect the result of the December 1970 election which had given verdict in favour of the Awami League under Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

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