West News Wire: Following Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s accusations that Indian agents were responsible for the murder of a Sikh Separatist leader in the nation, the United States is now embroiled in a diplomatic dispute between India and Canada.
The incendiary claim comes as many are questioning the U.S. relationship with India’s contentious prime leader, Narendra Modi, and the Biden administration’s charm effort towards India as a critical bulwark against China.
According to reports, the U.S. and Canada collaborated extensively on the investigation into the alleged murder that occurred there. President Biden has refrained from publicly responding to the claims, underscoring the delicate juggling act involved in supporting Canada without offending India.
All eyes are now on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s ability to back up his assertions with proof and how bad relations between Ottawa and New Delhi will grow before the United States is compelled to intervene.
Relations between the two nations have reached an all-time low since Trudeau made public accusations against India on Tuesday, and Canada has not gotten any public support from its friends in support of the assertion.
The Hill quoted Vivek Dehejia, an economist and expert on India-Canada relations, as saying that Canadian officials and Trudeau believed they would receive “unconditional support from their allies and from the U.S. in particular.”
“They have been disappointed by the level of support that they have received. If you look carefully at [national security adviser] Jake Sullivan’s recent comments, he’s walking a tightrope because Canada’s very dramatic allegations have put the U.S. and other NATO allies in a bind,” he added.
On Thursday, Sullivan offered a vague statement in support of Canada’s “undertaking in this investigation” and said the U.S. has also “been in touch” with India’s government.
“It is a matter of concern for us. It is something we take seriously. It is something we will keep working on, and we will do that regardless of the country,” he told reporters at the White House on Thursday.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the U.S. was “coordinating” with Canada on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly on Friday, and called for India to cooperate in the ongoing probe.
“We want to see accountability. And it’s important that the investigation run its course and lead to that result,” Blinken told reporters in New York.
The Washington Post reported earlier this week that several senior officials of Canada’s Five Eyes allies, of which the U.S. is a member, were informed of the allegations ahead of the G20 summit in New Delhi. Nevertheless, no public comment was made by any senior leaders among the group’s members, which also include the U.K., Australia and New Zealand.
According to Sadanand Dhume, a senior fellow at the Washington, D.C.-based American Enterprise Institute, the Biden administration has no intention of sacrificing its relationship with India over an “ill-judged accusation” by Trudeau.
Biden has made closer ties with India a foreign policy priority in its efforts to counter China’s influence in Asia, inviting Modi for an official state visit in June, when he also addressed Congress.
That was the same month that masked gunmen killed Hardeep Singh Nijjar outside a Sikh temple in Vancouver. The 45-year-old separatist leader had previously been designated as a terrorist by India.
India has long maintained that Canada has turned a blind eye toward extremist elements against India, especially Khalistani secessionists who demand a separate homeland for Sikh in the Punjab region.
“The fact is that the Canadians have allowed some pretty dodgy people to use Canadian soil and to spread violent messages,” Dhume said.
“It’s not as though there’s deep sympathy for Canada given that Trudeau has not handled this really well. He’s really been forced into a corner here.”
Trudeau has also come under scathing criticism from some former officials back home.
Omer Aziz, a former foreign policy advisor for Trudeau’s administration in Canada, wrote in The Globe and Mail that Ottawa’s foreign policy initiatives have never understood South Asia or India, but were instead aimed at winning over the sizable ethnic Sikh vote at home.
“Under Trudeau, the foreign policy choices have been subordinated to domestic diaspora politics, given the importance of the Sikh diaspora in Canada, which have been important liberal voters. Trudeau, who has a minority in [Canadian] parliament, is only in power because of the [New Democratic Party] led by Jagmeet Singh,” Dehejia told news reporters.
Singh is the first Sikh to lead a major federal party in Canada, and helped Trudeau form a minority government last year after the Liberals failed to win a majority in parliament.
In New Delhi, the Canadian allegations have united a fractious political landscape.
“The Indian response has been ferocious, and it’s been uniform,” said Dhume, adding that it has dredged up memories of the assassination of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1984 and Air India bombing the next year, both of which were linked to Sikh separatists.
Even Modi’s main opposition, the Indian National Congress has backed his government’s stance on Trudeau and Canada in a rare show of unity.
“The Congress reiterates that the country’s fight against terrorism has to be uncompromising, especially when it threatens India’s sovereignty, unity and integrity,” it said in a statement.
Pressure is now on Trudeau to reveal how Canada obtained the intelligence that led it to so publicly suggest the Indian government was behind the killing.
The prime minister doubled down on his claims Thursday, again saying Canada had “credible reasons to believe that agents of the government of India were involved in the killing of a Canadian on Canadian soil.”
Reuters reported that an unnamed senior Canadian government source said Ottawa worked “very closely” with the United States on the intelligence assessment.
The White House did not respond to reporters request for comment.
“Canada may not be in a position to reveal” where it got the information, Dhume said, but the Indian view is that “if you’re not in a position to corroborate then don’t make the allegation in public.”
Yet ultimately it may depend on the U.S. to settle the growing feud, which has resulted in India halting new visas for Canadians and expelling a Canadian diplomat.
“Only the U.S. has the ability to solve this as only they have both trust and influence in both Ottawa and New Delhi,” Dhume added.