Under US prodding, India now seeks information from Canada on Sikh leader’s murder

    Following U.S. pressure on India to cooperate with Canada in investigating the murder of a Sikh leader, its External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar has said that New Delhi is now open to looking into any “specific” information the Canadians provide on the incident.

    The Sikh leader, Hardep Singh Nijjar, was shot dead outside a Sikh temple on June 18 in Surrey, a Vancouver suburb with a large Sikh population. Nijjar supported a Sikh homeland in the form of an independent Khalistani state and was designated by India as a “terrorist” in July 2020.

    Tensions flared up after Canada recently said it was investigating “credible allegations” linking the Indian state with the

    murder. India dismissed the allegations as “absurd”.

    Asked about the allegations at a Council on Foreign Relations event in New York Tuesday afternoon, Jaishankar detailed India’s response in diplomatic engagements.

    “One, we told the Canadians that this [trans-border killings] is not the government of India’s policy,” he said. “Two, we told the Canadians saying that look, if you have something specific, if you have something relevant, you know, let us know – we are open to looking at it.”

    The Indian government has often reacted sharply to demands by Sikh separatists in Western countries for Khalistan, or a separate Sikh homeland.

    The minister added that India had given Canada “a lot of information about organized crime and leadership” relating to secessionist forces operating out of the country.

    “The picture is not complete without the context,” he said. “You also have to appreciate that in the last few years, Canada actually has seen a lot of organized crime relating to the secessionist forces, organized-crime, violence, extremism, they’re all very deeply mixed up.”

    “There are a large number of extradition requests. There are terrorist leaders, who have been identified,” Jaishankar said.

    The row burst into the open earlier this month after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canada’s intelligence agencies were investigating whether “agents of the government of India” were involved in Nijjar’s murder.

    Following Canada’s allegation, India had issued a sharp statement saying that it had “strong concerns about continuing anti-India activities of extremist elements in Canada” who it accused of “promoting secessionism and inciting violence against Indian diplomats”.

    Both countries have since expelled a diplomat each of the other nation. Last Thursday, India also suspended visa services for Canadians citing security concerns at its diplomatic missions in the country.

    On Tuesday, Jaishankar was also asked about the “intelligence” shared among the Five Eyes, an intelligence-sharing network that includes the US, Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand – relating to Nijjar’s murder.

    A US diplomat in Canada had last week confirmed that “there was shared intelligence among Five Eyes partners that helped lead Canada to making the statements that the prime minister made”.

    Jaishankar said, “I’m not part of The Five Eyes, I’m certainly not part of the FBI. So I think you’re asking the wrong person.”

    In Washington,  the US, meanwhile, said it backed “a full and fair investigation” into Canada’s allegations.

    “Canada has said it is committed to doing that, and we believe the Indian government should cooperate with it,” US State Department Spokesperson Matthew Miller said during a press conference on Tuesday.

    “We are obviously quite concerned about the situation in Canada. We’ve cooperated closely with our Canadian counterparts, and we have urged India to cooperate in that investigation and we’ll continue to do so,” he said in response to a question.

    “And India remains an important partner of the United States. We work with them on a number of issues. But of course we – on this matter, we urge them to cooperate with the Canadian investigation.”

    By Nadeem Faisal Baiga