Canada may have bitten off more than it could chew The Statesman 26 Sept 2023 Maj Gen Harsha Kakar


Canada may have bitten off more than it could chew The Statesman 26 Sept 2023

          The Canadian government, seeking to convey that it has information on Indian involvement in the killing of Khalistan terrorist Hardeep Singh Nijjar, leaked inputs to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, that it possesses ‘both human and signals intelligence.’ It further stated that inputs were provided by an ally nation which is part of the ‘five eyes intelligence alliance.’ This was backed by US officials and its ambassador to Ottawa.

This admission implies that Indian diplomatic staff were possibly trailed and their communications eavesdropped, an act against the Vienna convention. Sharing this proof, if it exists, could worsen diplomatic ties not only with Canada but also the nation which provided it, details of which may only be known to the Indian government.  

Hence, all Canada can do is leak information on available intelligence but avoid sharing it, as no third nation would desire to be drawn into an Indo-Canadian controversy, which has rapidly gone south. Demands for proof are also being raised domestically but Trudeau is helpless. The premier of British Columbia, David Eby, mentioned that claimed inputs were ‘open-source information,’ conveying Trudeau’s helplessness in sharing. Trudeau had jumped the gun but can go no further.

          Neither the Indian PM nor foreign minister have commented on Trudeau’s accusations, leaving it to the MEA spokesperson, Arindam Bagchi, to counter him, displaying how seriously India takes Canada. Bagchi countered Trudeau by stating that no proof was provided. He mentioned, ‘We are willing to look at any specific information that is provided to us, but so far we have received no specific information from Canada.’

Bagchi hit back at Canada mentioning, ‘From our side, specific evidence about criminal activities by individuals based on Canadian soil has been shared with Ottawa but not acted upon,’ hinting Canada officially supports Khalistan activists on its soil. India also leaked a report which it shared with Canada on activities of Hardeep Singh Nijjar.

The Indian report sent to Canada in 2016 mentioned, ‘Nijjar has been imparting arms training to his group in Canada. He took Mandeep Singh and three more Sikh youth for AK47 training to a range near Mission where they were made to fire for four hours daily.’ Canada failed to act on India’s request. This leak places Canada on a similar platform as Pakistan, while Ottawa accuses India of killing a terrorist on its soil.

          No country, let alone India, will accept another nation enabling anti-national elements to operate freely from its soil. India retaliated to Canadian accusations by mentioning, ‘Khalistani terrorists and extremists, have been provided shelter in Canada and continue to threaten India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.’ If India did eliminate a terrorist on foreign soil, it was not the first to do so. If Trudeau expects his allies to discard India because of the death of a known terrorist, then he is in utopia.

          Canada refused to respond to an Interpol Red Corner notice against Nijjar. The US placed Nijjar on a simple ‘no fly list’ aware that he is a terrorist and his movements were being monitored by India. Balraj Nijjar, son of the slain terrorist, mentioned to Canadian media that his father met Canadian intelligence operatives ‘once or twice a week,’ implying he was either being protected or exploited by Canadian as also possibly US intelligence agencies. Which democratic nation provides security to terrorists? Why were intelligence operatives interacting with Nijjar? Canada has not responded to these accusations.  

          Indian media reports mention Indian NSA Ajit Doval informed his US counterpart, Jake Sullivan, that India has not acted against Sikhs for Justice (SFJ) leader, Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, only because it is aware that he is a CIA agent. This implies that the US and Canada are exploiting this movement against India.

          India is now taking the battle onto Canadian soil by stopping issuance of visas to Canadian citizens. Stopping visa services has benefits. India can now restrict movement of pro-Khalistan Canadians to India. India is simultaneously cancelling OCI cards of all suspected Khalistan supporters as also taking control of their properties, commencing with Pannun of SFJ. It is also investigating money laundering from India involving Khalistani’s.   

          India is aware it holds the cards. The bonus card in India’s hands are its students who proceed to Canada for studies. By slowing the tap of Indian students proceeding to Canada, it could seriously impact the Canadian economy. Indian students provide USD 30 billion to the Canadian economy, apart from expenditure for housing and daily needs. All India has to do is advise banks to go slow on issuance of loans for education in Canada on security concerns.

India refusing to withdraw its advisory on Canada and suggesting students choose other destinations could make many alter their choices. Few Canadian universities could collapse as Indians form 50% of foreign students in Canada. Delhi is increasing pressure on Ottawa, forcing Trudeau to act.  

For Canadian allies, the call is tough. Playing neutral and asking India to cooperate means nothing. Indian cooperation can only be possible once Canada lays all information on the table, which could implicate its allies. Those who continue to adopt a policy of eliminating their threats by covert means, as the US, have anyway no right to preach. 

Canada is already backing down. Posters threatening Indian diplomats splattered across Canadian Gurdwara’s are being removed on specific directions from Ottawa, weeks after being placed. Trudeau is signalling a drawdown by mentioning he does not seek confrontation with India. In their meetings with Jaishankar in Washington, senior US officials will hint (Not demand) cooperation, aware Trudeau is on a slippery wicket.   

Why should India join the probe? Why should Canada and the US, which claim to be “rules-based order” nations not justify why they refused to act on a Red Corner notice or ignored Indian concerns? Why should the west demand action from India while ignoring its security concerns? India should first get answers before it contemplates cooperation. Unless all intelligence inputs and sources, including undiplomatic, are on the table, India should ignore all calls.

Trudeau accusing India has resulted in fear within the global Khalistan community. Many rushed into hiding or hired protection. Trudeau has finally done India a favour.