Watch: Nijjar killing - Pannun case: How should India manage diplomatic fallout

One year since the Nijjar killing in Canada, and Pannun assassination plot in the US, - how is India managing the diplomatic challenge in ties with the US and Canada, and continuing concerns over Khalistani separatism?

Updated - June 21, 2024 08:55 pm IST

Published - June 21, 2024 08:29 pm IST

You could call it the Tale of two trials:

With the extradition of an Indian Nikhil Gupta to the US, and the arrest of 4 Indians in Canada, India is expected to face a number of questions over its operations on targeting Khalistani separatists in the west.

This week marked many anniversaries

- A year since Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a Khalistani separatist wanted on terror charges in India, was gunned down outside a gurudwara in Canada’s Surrey

- A year since the US FBI and Drug Enforcement Agency stopped what it calls an assassination plot under way against Gurpatwant Singh Pannun in New York

- And a year since Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s state visit to the US

This week also saw a flurry of activity linked to those 3 events:

1. PM Modi met US President Biden, a brief exchange on the side-lines of the G7 in Italy, the first time they met since the FBI filed charges in the Pannun case accusing Indian security officials for the Pannun plot

2. Modi also met Canadian PM Trudeau a much frostier exchange, the first time they met since Trudeau went public in parliament with accusations against Indian officials in the Nijjar killing

3. Next an announcement that Nikhil Gupta, the man wanted in the Pannun plot case, had been extradited to the US from the Czech Republic and produced in court- indicating a trial is likely to begin in that case

4. US Congressman, including Democrat Bernie Sanders wrote to US Secretary of State Blinken saying that they were very concerned by the allegations they called credible, and want a briefing by the Department and follow up action against India.

5. After cancelling twice this year, US NSA Jake Sullivan landed in India- for his first such meetings since the US went public with its charges against India- he met NSA Ajit Doval, EAM S. Jaishankar and even PM Modi. No public statements were made on the issue, as the two sides met ostensibly to discuss iCET review and technological issues.

6. Back to Canada- and the entire Parliament there decided to marks a year since Nijjar’s killing by holding a moment of silence for him, certainly unusual given the charges against him in India, while Nijjar supporters took out rallies. India countered by announcing a memorial this weekend for those who died on board the Air India Kanishka flight in 1985- an act of Khalistani terrorism

7. Meanwhile Australia’s public broadcaster released a documentary that not only revealed the “nest of spies” case- where 4 Indian diplomats were expelled for spying in 2020, linking their activities to surveillance of Khalistani separatists in Australia, but also spoke about political interference in Australia by groups connected to the ruling BJP. And remember German courts have already convicted 3 for espionage on Sikh groups there in 2020.

Diplomatic Impact

1. The charges have taken a wrecking ball to the India-Canada relationship- it is unlikely these can recover anytime soon

2. They have put a strain on the India-US relationship, even if the governments still have deep cooperation- the impact on intelligence cooperation, legal cooperation and the increasingly concerned voices from the US Congress will hamper ties

3. The accusation by US Congressmen of Transnational repression is more serious in the long term, as it

-Categorises India along with US enemies like Russia, China and Iran

-Impacts India’s image as a democracy

-Could open India to punitive action, including withholding of defence supplies

Challenges ahead for Indian diplomacy

 1. Prepare for the trial revelations

2. Conclude India’s High-Level enquiry

3. Cooperate on Canadian investigation if proof provided

4. Proving charge that the Khalistani separatists on India’s terror lists are actually wanted to violent acts and not dissidents- and pursue extradition requests

WV Take: Regardless of what is proven in court, it is clear that India has been put in the dock because of the perception that its intelligence agencies have overreached in their operations, particularly when it comes to friendly countries and strategic partners. The charges of violating international rules and transnational repression are not to be taken lightly, as these don’t just have a bearing on India’s image, but can severely curtail the work of India’s diplomats and missions worldwide, and damage bilateral ties irreparably.

WV Reading Recommendations

1. RAW : A HISTORY OF INDIA’S COVERT OPERATIONS by Yatish Yadav

2. Blood For Blood - 50 years of the Global Khalistani Project by Terry Milewski

3. SIKH SEPARATISM: A History of Conflicts by Rajesh Singh

4. Transnational Repression in the Age of Globalisation by Dana Moss and Saipira Furstenberg, and one coming soon called Transnational Repression and Extrajudicial Killings by Marty Gitlin

5.The Unending Game: A Former R&AW Chief’s Insights into Espionage by Vikram Sood and The Ultimate Goal

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