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A Row costing $ 9 billion to India & Canada

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Islamabad (Imran Y. CHOUDHRY) :- Former Press Secretary to the President, Former Press Minister to the Embassy of Pakistan to France, Former MD, SRBC Mr. Qamar Bashir analysis :
During his address to the 78th Session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), caretaker Prime Minister Mr. Anwar-ul-Haq Kakar raised concerns over the Hindutva ideology in India while citing the recent killing of a Canadian citizen, Hardeep Singh Nijjar of Khalistan Tiger Force, on June 18, in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. He asserted that this ideology is being employed to justify the persecution of religious and ethnic minorities in India. In a call for international action, he urged the global community to hold India accountable for its alleged human rights abuses while characterizing Mr. Nijjar killing as “extrajudicial.” This condemnation was accompanied by a critique of what was described as India’s “intolerance” towards minority communities.
It’s worth noting that historical tensions between India and Canada have roots dating back to the 1980s. Since then India has been expressing its concerns about Canada allegedly harboring Sikh separatist elements and facilitating the promotion of the Khalistan issue. Canada is home to one of the world’s largest Sikh populations outside India, comprising nearly 770,000 people, or approximately 2.1% of the country’s population.
In 2015, relations between Canada and India faced heightened tensions when Justin Trudeau assumed power as Prime Minister and appointed four Sikh ministers to his 30-member cabinet. These appointments raised concerns in India, which had previously expressed apprehensions about Sikh Canadians who openly support the Khalistan movement seeking a separate Sikh homeland in India. Additionally, incidents such as the vandalism of a Hindu temple in Canada with graffiti reading “death to India” in Urdu and “Khalistan,” as well as local referendums organized by Sikh Canadians advocating Sikh independence from India, further strained diplomatic ties.
In February 2018, during Justin Trudeau’s address to the Canadian Parliament, he delivered a presentation, complete with graphics, pictures, and videos, in which he described his official visit to India. Trudeau recounted how, despite the Indian Prime Minister’s outward politeness and warm photo opportunities, carefully planned and orchestrated events appeared to be aimed at insulting, humiliating, and disrespecting the Canadian Prime Minister. Notably, India neither issued an apology nor expressed regret for these perceived slights.
Justin Trudeau’s trip was also marred by several controversies and criticisms. One notable issue was related to the attire worn by him and his family throughout the visit. They chose to don elaborate traditional Indian outfits, which some observers perceived as excessive and politically tone-deaf. This choice led to accusations of cultural appropriation.
Later, in June 2023, India’s Minister of External Affairs, S. Jaishankar, expressed concerns during a press conference about Canada’s accommodation of Sikh separatists, warning that it was detrimental to the bilateral relationship. He termed Canada’s approach to the Khalistani issue as driven by domestic politics and vote-bank considerations. Ten days after Jaishankar’s warnings, Hardeep Singh Nijjar was fatally shot at a Sikh temple in Vancouver.
Canada reacted to this incident by taking significant diplomatic measures. On September 1, just eight days before the G-20 Summit, Canada paused trade negotiations with India and canceled a planned trade mission to India, affecting the US$9 billion trade relationship between the two countries.
Tensions escalated further during the G-20 Summit in New Delhi, held from September 9th to 10th, 2023. Unlike other Western leaders, Prime Minister Trudeau did not engage in formal bilateral talks with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Instead, the two leaders expressed their serious concerns on the sidelines of the summit. Modi raised issues related to “anti-India activities of extremist elements in Canada” and accused Canada of fostering sympathy for a Sikh separatist movement. Canada, in turn, accused Indian officials of interfering in its domestic politics.
The relationship between the two nations deteriorated significantly on September 18, 2023. Prime Minister Trudeau made a sensational statement before the Canadian Parliament, disclosing that Ottawa was actively pursuing “credible allegations” from Canadian intelligence regarding New Delhi’s involvement in the assassination of prominent Sikh Canadian leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar on Canadian soil in June. In response to Trudeau’s comments, the Canadian government expelled a senior Indian diplomat. India swiftly denied any involvement in Nijjar’s death and issued a statement to that effect. In retaliation, India also expelled an unnamed senior Canadian diplomat.
The combination of increasing Sikh activism in Canada, but also in the U.K., U.S., and Australia, including widespread protests held in March over the manhunt for another Sikh separatist leader, Amritpal Singh. “The stepped-up activism has sharpened New Delhi’s concerns while Canada, citing freedom of speech, has held back, and its unwillingness to address Indian concerns has plunged bilateral relations into a deep crisis.
On Tuesday 19 Sept, 2023, U.S. National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said the White House was “deeply concerned” about the Canadian allegations. “It is critical that Canada’s investigation proceed and the perpetrators be brought to justice,” Watson said in a statement.
Derek J. Grossman, a senior defense analyst at the RAND Corporation, says it will be interesting to see how the Biden Administration handles the situation. “Taking a stand either way—for India or for Canada—would anger the other,” he says. “Regardless, I think the Biden Administration wants to keep India at its side at all costs to help counter China through the Indo-Pacific strategy.
The United Kingdom said it is in close touch with its Canadian partners about “serious allegations” from Ottawa that the Indian government was involved in the murder of a Sikh separatist leader in British Columbia province earlier this year.
The spokesperson for Australian foreign minister Wong said Australia is “deeply concerned by these allegations and notes ongoing investigations into this matter”. “We are closely engaged with partners on developments. We have conveyed our concerns at senior levels to India,” said the Australian official.
India has faced criticism for its human rights record, particularly in the context of its handling of the situation in the illegally occupied region of Jammu and Kashmir. In this region, there have been concerns about the restriction of the Kashmiri population’s movements and liberties, leading to claims that it resembles one of the largest human incarcerations in the world. India has also faced criticism for its treatment of religious and ethnic minorities, as well as issues related to its treatment of low-caste Hindus.
Some observers argue that India has not faced sufficient international scrutiny or accountability for these alleged violations. They believe that geopolitical factors, such as the Western world’s concerns about China’s rise, have led to a strategic alignment with India. This alignment, they argue, has sometimes resulted in a lenient approach toward India’s human rights issues. Critics argue that this approach can, in the long run, prove detrimental, as the same nation being supported today may pose challenges in the future. If you feed a crocodile, it will eventually eat you.

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