Biden walks a careful line through worsening Canada-India tensions

Biden walks a careful line through worsening Canada-India tensions

As President Joe Biden‘s administration seeks to deepen its strategic partnership with India, the White House has called on New Delhi to cooperate with a Canadian investigation into potential state-sponsored links to the killing of a Sikh dissident.

Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, National Security Council Strategic Communications Director John Kirby said the U.S. officials “believe the investigation opened by Canadian authorities into the June 18 slaying of Hardeep Singh Nijjar outside of a Sikh temple in British Colombia “should proceed, of course, unimpeded and that the facts should take the investigators where they may and that the perpetrators should be brought to justice.”

And while he “was not going to get ahead of the investigation,” he said, “We encourage India to fully cooperate” with the probe.

Hardeep, Singh, Nijjar, banner, in, BC, Canada
An image of former gurdwara president Jathedar Hardeep Singh Nijjar is displayed at the Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara temple in Surrey, British Columbia, Canada, on September 19. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on demanded that India treat with “utmost seriousness” Canada’s allegations of New Delhi’s possible involvement in the slaying of a Sikh exile, a concern echoed by Washington. DON MACKINNON/AFP/Getty Images

Najjar, an outspoken supporter of the establishment of a separatist Sikh state known as Khalistan, has been accused by Indian authorities of leading the outlawed Khalistan Tiger Force, something he has denied. At the time of his death, he was organizing an informal referendum in support of Sikh independence.

On Monday, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his administration was investigating “credible allegations” that “agents of the government of India” were involved in Nijjar’s killing. Indian officials responded by calling the probe “absurd” and accusing Canada of sheltering militants of the Khalistani movement, which has historically been involved in violent acts in India.

The dispute has also led to the reciprocal expulsions of an Indian intelligence official from Canada and a senior Canadian diplomat from India, which issued an advisory on Wednesday calling on Indian nationals in Canada to “exercise utmost caution” due to “growing anti-India activities and politically-condoned hate crimes and criminal violence” in the country.

The tensions have the potential to complicate what Kirby described as a “strategic partnership” with India, though he asserted that ties between New Delhi and Washington were “separate and distinct” from this issue.

“Our relationship with India remains vitally important, not only for the South Asia region, but, of course, for the Indo-Pacific and they engage with us in the Indo-Pacific Quad, and there’s a range of other economic, development, investment, high-tech issues that we are continuing to work with India,” Kirby said. “And we’re going to stay focused on those very important national security issues.”

Newsweek has reached out to the Indian External Affairs Ministry for comment.

While Canada is not a member of the Quad, officially the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, which also includes Australia and Japan as members, it is a founding member of the NATO alliance, which has also sought to expand its role in the Asia-Pacific region.

Both the Quad and NATO’s growing footprint in the Asia-Pacific is widely viewed as an effort to counter China, which has criticized both endeavors as a U.S.-led campaign to try to “contain” the People’s Republic.

The row over Nijjar’s killing cast a shadow over Trudeau’s trip to India for the G20 summit earlier this month. Biden had utilized his own appearance to further boost his repertoire with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, whom he hosted at the White House in June, and a picture that appeared to show the U.S. leader wagging his finger at the Canadian premier sparked media speculation of a souring relationship between the two neighboring nations.

But Kirby dismissed any conjecture suggesting that the U.S. was not supportive of Canada’s investigation.

“There’s been some speculation out there that the United States rebuffed Canada in terms of talking about their investigation, and I just want to stress that those reports are just flatly false, untrue,” Kirby said. “We’re coordinating and we’re consulting with Canada closely on this issue, as you might expect.”

“It’s a very serious matter,” he added. “And we fully support Canada’s ongoing law enforcement efforts.”


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