United States President Joe Biden and other leaders expressed concern to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the G20 summit earlier this month about Canada’s claim that New Delhi was involved in the killing of a Sikh separatist leader, the Financial Times (FT) has reported.
Several members of the Five Eyes – an intelligence-sharing network that includes Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the US – raised the killing of Sikh separatist leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar directly with Modi, the newspaper reported on Thursday, citing three people familiar with discussions at the G20.
Keep readinglist of 4 items
Biden and other leaders made their concerns known at the summit after Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau urged allies to intervene directly with Modi, the newspaper reported.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the FT’s report, according to the Reuters news agency, but a spokesperson said on Thursday that the US was deeply concerned by the allegations.
India has rejected Canada’s claims of official involvement in the killing, calling the allegations “absurd”.
India’s foreign ministry has said that Canada had not shared any specific information about the murder of Nijjar, 45, who was gunned down outside a Sikh temple he led in the city of Surrey in Canada’s province of British Columbia in June.
Nijjar, a plumber who was born in India but became a Canadian citizen in 2007, was a vocal supporter of a Sikh homeland in India in the form of an independent Khalistani state and was designated a “terrorist” by Indian authorities in July 2020.
At the time of his killing, Nijjar was attempting to organise an unofficial Sikh diaspora referendum on independence from India.
The Associated Press reported on Thursday, citing an unnamed source familiar with the matter, that the allegation of India’s involvement in the killing of Nijjar was based on human and surveillance intelligence, including signals intelligence of Indian diplomats in Canada.
The Canadian official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to discuss the matter publicly, did not say which member of the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing alliance provided some of the intelligence on the Indian diplomats nor did they give any specific details of what was contained in the intelligence.
The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) first reported details of the intelligence on Thursday. The CBC, citing Canadian sources, also reported that no Indian official, when pressed behind closed doors, has denied the allegation that there is evidence suggesting Indian government involvement in Nijjar’s death.
India’s Ministry of External Affairs did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment on the CBC report.
‘Deep concerns about the allegations’
Trudeau’s allegations were followed by each country expelling a diplomat. The growing dispute has also put some Western countries in a difficult position as Canada has been their longstanding partner and ally while, at the same time, the US and others in the West are seeking to build strong ties with New Delhi to counter the influence of China in the Asia Pacific region.
US national security adviser Jake Sullivan said on Thursday that there was no “wedge” between the US and Canada over Ottawa’s allegations that India had a hand in the killing of Nijjar.
“I have seen in the press some efforts to try to drive a wedge between the United States and Canada on this issue,” Sullivan said.
“I firmly reject the idea that there is a wedge between the US and Canada,” he told reporters, noting that “we have deep concerns about the allegations”.
On Thursday, the company that processes Indian visas in Canada announced that visa services had been suspended until further notice. The BLS Indian Visa Application Center gave no further details.
The suspension means Canadians – who are among the top visitors to India – will not be able to travel to India unless they have a visa already.
New Delhi’s anxieties about Sikh separatist groups in Canada have long been a strain on relations, but the two countries have maintained strong defence and trade ties and share strategic interests over China’s global ambitions.
In March, Modi’s government summoned the Canadian high commissioner in New Delhi, its top diplomat in the country, to complain about Sikh independence protests in Canada.
A Sikh uprising shook northern India in the 1970s and 1980s until it was crushed in a government crackdown in which thousands of people were killed, including prominent Sikh leaders.
While the uprising ended decades ago, the Indian government has warned that Sikh separatists are trying to stage a return.