In a major escalation of diplomatic tensions, India expelled a Canadian diplomat on Tuesday, a clear retaliation to Canada’s expulsion of an Indian diplomat identified as an intelligence officer. This diplomatic fallout was spurred by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s recent allegations accusing the Indian government of possibly orchestrating the assassination of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a Sikh separatist leader based in British Columbia. This dramatic claim has plunged Indo-Canadian relations to an unprecedented low, even as allied nations, including the United States, declined to join Canada in publicly announcing the ongoing investigation’s findings, suggesting a strategic avoidance of conflict with India.
The unnamed Canadian diplomat, identified by the Hindustan Times as the Canadian intelligence service’s New Delhi station chief, was ousted following the Indian government’s vehement dismissal of Trudeau’s accusations as “absurd and motivated.” The Indian Ministry of Foreign Affairs argues that the allegations are a distraction from the Khalistani extremists residing in Canada, who pose a threat to India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. This diplomatic standoff stems from the long-standing tension regarding the Canadian government’s perceived inaction against Khalistani terrorists, a concern that has been amplified following Nijjar’s assassination.
Rising Tensions Between India and Canada Over Alleged Assassination
Allegations and Expulsions
In a significant escalation of diplomatic tensions, India expelled a Canadian diplomat this week. The move comes in response to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s claim that the Indian government may have been involved in the assassination of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a Sikh separatist leader in British Columbia. Following Trudeau’s explosive speech before Parliament, Canada expelled an Indian diplomat, identified as an intelligence officer. These allegations have strained the relations between the two nations, bringing them to their lowest point in recent history.
The Indian Government’s Response
The Indian government vehemently rejected Trudeau’s accusation, calling it "absurd and motivated." The Foreign Ministry stated that such allegations were a ploy to shift the focus away from Khalistani terrorists who have found shelter in Canada and continue to threaten India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Nijjar, the victim of the alleged assassination, was labeled a terrorist by Indian security agencies in 2020. He was accused of supporting attacks in India’s Punjab state, where about 16 million Sikhs reside. India had sought his extradition from Canada earlier this year.
The Khalistan Movement
Nijjar was part of the Khalistan movement, which seeks to establish a separate state in the Punjab region. The movement has supporters within India and among the large global Sikh diaspora. The Indian government has been actively seeking international support to curb the movement, which it perceives as a significant threat to its territorial unity.
Earlier this year, protesters in London and San Francisco stormed Indian diplomatic missions to raise their movement’s flag, causing outrage in the Indian government. Indian officials claim that pro-Khalistan supporters have also targeted Indian diplomats posted overseas.
The controversy comes at an awkward moment as Western nations, led by the White House, are looking to woo India as a geopolitical and trade partner. Karthik Nachiappan, an expert on India-Canada relations at the National University of Singapore, believes the alleged assassination could damage the entirety of Indian foreign policy.
He points out that Canada is a G-7 country and an ally of nations like the United Kingdom, Australia, and the United States that have similar concerns about foreign interference. The issue has become larger than the alleged assassination, touching on broader themes of geopolitics and how nations like China, Russia, and India are influencing and interfering in liberal democracies.
This incident highlights the complexity of international relations and the delicate balance that countries must maintain when dealing with sensitive issues such as separatist movements and alleged state-sponsored assassinations. It also underscores the potential for diplomatic fallout when such allegations are made publicly.
The fallout from this situation could have far-reaching effects, impacting not only India-Canada relations but also India’s standing in the global community. It will be crucial to observe how these events unfold and what steps are taken by both countries to manage this crisis.