India’s foreign minister has confirmed that he discussed his country’s row with Canada over the killing of a Canadian Sikh leader with top United States government officials during a visit to Washington, DC, this week.
Subrahmanyam Jaishankar said on Friday that he laid out India’s concerns about Sikh separatist movement supporters in Canada during talks a day earlier with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan.
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Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on September 18 that his government was investigating “credible allegations of a potential link” between Indian government agents and the June killing of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a prominent Sikh leader in western Canada.
“They [Blinken and Sullivan] obviously shared US views and assessments on this whole situation and I explained to them … the concerns which I had,” Jaishankar said during an event at the Hudson Institute, a conservative US think-tank.
“Hopefully we both came out of those meetings better informed.”
New Delhi has consistently rejected Ottawa’s allegations of involvement in Nijjar’s killing, calling them “absurd” and politically motivated.
That denial was echoed by Jaishankar on Friday, who said the official Indian government response to Trudeau, “both in private and public”, has been “that what he was alleging was not consistent with our policy”.
‘Climate of fear’
Jaishankar also said the US and India viewed Canada differently, accusing Ottawa of harbouring what he called “terrorists” and organised crime, referring to Sikh separatists whom New Delhi views as a security threat.
“It’s a very toxic combination of issues and people who have found operating space there,” he said.
The Canada-India dispute escalated further last week as the two nations expelled diplomats from each other’s respective countries, and New Delhi suspended visa services in Canada because of purported threats against its consular staff.
Jaishankar said Indian diplomats in Canada “are unsafe going to the embassy or to the consulates” because of a “climate of fear”.
“Because there is freedom of speech to make threats and intimidate diplomats, I don’t think that’s acceptable,” Jaishankar later told reporters.
Canada also has reported threats on social media against its diplomats in India.
Trudeau said last week his country would defend its citizens and the “rules-based system” and called on India to cooperate with the Canadian investigation into the killing.
But Ottawa has not released specific evidence to back up its accusations of India’s involvement in the killing of Nijjar.
Jaishankar reiterated on Friday that India is open to looking into “anything relevant and specific” that Canada may put forward.
For its part, Washington previously voiced support for the Canadian probe, with Sullivan saying the feud with India has not caused friction between the US and Canada.
“I firmly reject the idea that there is a wedge between the US and Canada,” Sullivan said last week. “We have deep concerns about the allegations, and we would like to see this investigation carried forward and the perpetrators are held to account.”
‘Hold perpetrators accountable’
The US, arguably Canada’s closest ally, has been deepening ties with India – which it sees as a counterweight to China in the Asia-Pacific region – amid Washington’s growing competition with Beijing.
A US Department of State readout describing the meeting between Jaishankar and Blinken on Thursday did not mention Canada or the killing of Nijjar.
Instead, the State Department hailed a US-brokered project to create a trade corridor from India to Europe, including via rail through Saudi Arabia and Israel, which President Joe Biden has viewed as a major achievement.
But India has faced criticism from progressives in the US Congress for its human rights record under Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
“I’m deeply concerned over allegations that Canadian citizen Hardeep Singh Nijjar was murdered by the Indian government, especially in light of rising threats to the Sikh community,” Democratic Congresswoman Barbara Lee said in a social media post on Thursday.
“I support a full investigation to hold the perpetrators accountable & bring justice to his family.”