India in global crosshairs The Statesman 06 Feb 2024
The Chinese government recently issued a statement supporting Pakistan’s claim of the Indian government being involved in killings of Pak nationals on its soil. The Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson, Wang Wenbin, stated, ‘China noted the reports and recent diplomatic disputes between relevant countries. The information released by Pakistan is worth our attention.’ He added that China opposes ‘double standards on counter terrorism (by India).’
Earlier Pakistan had accused Indian agents, based in a third country, of behind the killing of two Pak nationals, Mohammad Riaz and Shahid Latif in Sept/Oct last year. India refuted these allegations claiming them ‘false and malicious anti-India propaganda.’ The Indian statement added, ‘India and many other countries have publicly warned Pakistan cautioning that it would be consumed by its own culture of terror and violence. Pakistan will reap what it sows.’
Pakistan, in its accusations, had mentioned that the two nationals killed were members of anti-India (terrorist) groups, further adding credence to the fact that it continues to harbour terrorist groups on its soil. Over the past two years over a dozen anti-India terrorists, including some supporting the so-called Khalistan movement, have been killed in Pakistan, mostly by unknown gunmen. None of these cases have been solved.
Thus far, Pakistan maintained silence as acceptance of these individuals as terrorists or their sympathizers would have signified presence of such groups on its soil, inviting fresh sanctions from the FATF (Financial Action Task Force). It gained confidence when India was accused of similar deeds by the US and Canada. Pakistan anyway has a habit of blaming India for all ills on its soil, including the recent attacks by the Baloch in Mach and Kolpur, hence is never taken seriously.
Post the G20 summit, Justin Trudeau, Canada’s PM, publicly accused India of being behind the assassination of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a Sikh separatist activist on Canadian soil. This followed his disastrous visit to India for the event. New Delhi termed Ottawa’s accusations as ‘absurd and motivated.’ Canada claims it received intelligence of Indian involvement from its allied ‘five eyes’ network. This resulted in deterioration in ties between the two countries.
While Canada claimed it shared intelligence with India, New Delhi denied. India’s foreign minister Dr Jaishankar even stated in the Rajya Sabha, ‘Insofar as Canada is concerned, no specific evidence or inputs were provided to us.’ Last week, Canada’s outgoing National Security Advisor, Jody Thomas, mentioned in her final interview that India is now cooperating with Canada in the investigation. There were no comments from the Indian side contradicting her claims.
In another incident, further deteriorating ties, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service in a declassified report has included India, alongside China, as a ‘foreign threat’ that could potentially interfere in their elections.
The US accused an Indian official of being behind the assassination attempt on Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, the head of the Sikhs for Justice (SFJ) movement. The incident occurred around the time of the visit of PM Modi to the US. Washington has sought the extradition of Nikhil Gupta, accused of being the co-conspirator in the incident, currently under detention in The Prague, Czech Republic. The US has claimed that it has shared inputs of the plot with India.
Jaishankar commenting on differences between the accusations put forth by the US and Canada mentioned in an interview to NDTV last week, ‘They (Canada) did not share anything, but made allegations in public. In comparison, see the example of the US. The US told us that they have some information about criminals, and they will give us some information to look into from our side, and we will compare the information, investigate the matter.’ As a fallout of US claims, India ordered a high-level investigation.
Logically, neither Pannun nor Nijjar were such major threats which warranted their elimination. India was aware that both were protected by the US and Canadian intelligence agencies, intending to be exploited to gain leverage over India. The Khalistan movement, which both endorsed, lacks substantial base in India. They were only capable of activating supporters in their home countries to damage Indian diplomatic property and conduct meaningless referendums. Hence, in case accusations are true, then it could be the initiative of an overzealous intelligence operative or someone masquerading as one.
Many believed that the US claim could be a spanner in Indo-US ties. PM Modi in an interview to the Financial Times stated, ‘If a citizen of ours has done anything, good or bad, we are ready to look into it. Our commitment is to the rule of law.’ He added, ‘I don’t think it is appropriate to link a few incidents with diplomatic relations between the two countries.’
While these incidents are recent, India was also in the docks in Jul 2021 when fugitive diamantaire, Mehul Choksi, released an audio tape on his repatriation to Antigua from Dominica, accusing Indian agencies of executing a kidnapping. He mentioned in the tape, ‘I could have never imagined that after closing all my businesses and seizing all my properties, a kidnapping attempt would be made on me by Indian agencies.’
All intelligence agencies work to protect their nation and towards this end even attempt to silence those who act against them. Israel, Pakistan, North Korea, Russia and China, to name a few, have done so brazenly. The US has targeted its enemies’ employing drones in third countries, ignoring collateral damage, apart from clandestine actions. In some cases, the identity of those involved in assassination attempts have been determined and in rare cases, intelligence operatives captured.
Further, states only undertake such actions when the host nation refuses to heed to security concerns of the impacted country. Rarely are such attempts undertaken in friendly countries. Wherever proof of targeted killings has come to light, diplomatic ties have been impacted. Problems emerge when those involved in executing the plot leave loose ends or adopt means which can be traced.
While India can ignore Pakistan’s outbursts, as they are prone to blame India for all their ills, it needs to tread carefully on Canadian and US accusations, as the two appear linked. At the end it is diplomacy which resolves these differences, as is currently happening between India and the US.