India-Canada diplomatic row: Menace of pro-Khalistani appeasement politics by Ottawa
Instead of levelling allegations against India out of prejudices over the killing of pro-Khalistani element Hardeep Singh Nijjar, Canada should worry about its reputation as it has become a safe haven for extremists and terrorists---a key factor behind worsening New Delhi-Ottawa relations
On September 20, India issued an advisory for its nationals living in Canada and those contemplating travel to the North American country, asking them to exercise utmost caution in view of anti-India activities and “politically-condoned hate crimes and criminal violence” in Canada.
India’s Ministry of External Affairs did this a day after Canada updated a travel advisory for India, marking a further escalation of tension between the two countries which earlier, in the tit-for-tat action, expelled each other’s diplomats following Ottawa’s allegations on the involvement of Indian officials in the killing of a Khalistani terrorist Hardeep Singh Nijjar in June.
There is a fear that New Delhi-Ottawa relations will go into deep freeze unless the Justin Trudeau government in Canada stops playing vote bank politics and rescind its support to Khalistani extremists, who find Canada a fertile ground to indulge in anti-India activities.
Safe haven for terrorists
Today, on account of Ottawa’s inaction against organised crime, extremism and terrorism, Canada has earned a reputation of being a “safe haven for terrorists and extremists.”
This month, when Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was in New Delhi for the G20 Summit, Sikhs for Justice (SFJ), an outlawed outfit in India, was busy organising a Khalistani referendum in Surrey, British Columbia. On August 14, a prominent Hindu temple was vandalised in British Columbia with “anti-Hindu and anti-India” graffiti pasted on the main entry gate and the entrance of the temple.
Earlier in July, pro-Khalistan supporters released a poster carrying photographs of three Indian diplomats and threatened to kill them. On June 4, an anti-India rally was carried out in Brampton in which a tableau, celebrating the assassination of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was shown in a blood-stained white saree, with the hands up, as turbaned men pointed guns at her.
Despite such provocative anti-India activities taking place on Canadian soil, the Justin Trudeau government took no serious actions against perpetrators of crime. Rather Canadian authorities ignored them in the name of freedom of speech.
In March this year, anti-India activities witnessed a surge when coordinated anti-India demonstrations and attacks on Indian facilities took place from UK to USA, Australia and Canada. Except Canada, the rest of the countries reined in the Khalistani separatists.
Funding by ISI
It is said that Khalistani separatists act as protégé of Pakistan’s ISI, who liberally fund them for carrying out anti-India activities in Canada and other parts of the world. In Canada alone, there are at least nine pro-Khalistani outfits such as the World Sikh Organisation (WSO), Khalistan Tiger Force (KTF), Sikhs for Justice (SFJ) and Babbar Khalsa International (BKI)—all of them receive funding from Pakistan’s ISI.
Khalistan separatists have gained roots in Canada, ever since Indian passenger airliner Kanishka was blown up high in the sky in June, 1985, but the sad part of this tragic incident is that Canadian politicians have not learnt any lessons, as most of the passengers among 328 dead were 278 Canadian citizens.
Over the years, the Canadian politicians have fallen prey to the appeasement policy by facilitating Khalistan separatists with space and voice. In fact, it would not be wrong to say that the Trudeau government is rearing snakes in its backyard.
The Canadian politicians kowtow before the Khalistani separatists to garner votes for winning the parliamentary elections. In order to win a few electoral constituencies, dominated by Khalistani supporters, politicians from Canada compromise with national interests, which demand that Ottawa should develop deeper ties with India, the fifth largest economy.
Impact on two-way trade
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau must remember the time when he had to beg for Covid vaccines, when he called Prime Minister Narendra Modi for help in mid-2021. Canada which is home to around 1.86 million people of Indian origin out of a total 38 million population and is a favourite hunting ground for Indian students. Over 2,26,000 Indian students were admitted in 2022.
Canada’s very liberal immigration policy attracts Indian students and skilled professionals to migrate to the country, who contribute substantial revenue to the country. Canada, thus, cannot afford to have strained relations with India.
On the economic front, India-Canada bilateral trade currently stands at around US $11 billion. Some experts say despite tension between the two countries, trade exchange will flourish independently of diplomatic chill in their bilateral relations as has been seen in the case of India and China which do not share warmth in their ties since the 2020 Galwan Valley incident.
But then, trade talks have already taken a hit as both sides have stalled FTA negotiations. FTA was in the interest of both the countries as Canadian politicians of rival parties have also drawn attention of Justin Trudeau for its urgent necessity in view of India’s increasing heft in international economy and trade.
Impact on Indo-Pacific strategy
All this along, however, it is felt that diplomatic tension between the two countries will not have any bearing on their cooperation in international forums, including Indo-Pacific where strategic interests of both countries coincide.
The Canadian Army, as per media reports, is taking part in the Indo-Pacific Army Chiefs’ Conclave (IPACC) in New Delhi on September 26 and 27. Fifteen Army chiefs and delegations from 22 countries will attend the event, co-hosted by the US Army in New Delhi.
India along with rest of Quad countries and Canada has a common strategy on its sleeve and that is to ensure free navigation as per international law in the Indo-Pacific. They work as a bulwark against aggression of China in the South China Sea through which more than $3 trillion dollar worth of global trade in goods pass through annually.
This apart, India is today a fifth economic power with a vast population and large market size in the world. In view of this, no western nation will allow its relations with India to get jeopardised, especially when economic slowdown has taken the world into its octopus grip.
There is a fear among western bloc that India being an established leader of the Global South with a reputation of raising the voice of poor and developing countries on almost all platforms, any coercive move against New Delhi will boomerang. As all developing countries will side with India, rather than rich and developed countries, they have seen it in the case of the Russia-Ukraine war.
No developing countries, except for a few, have condemned Russia for its aggression against Ukraine. Western countries’ led sanctions on Russia have also failed to weaken Moscow as its oil and gas trade with China and other countries continue to support its economy from collapsing.
***The writer is a senior journalist and strategic affairs analyst; views expressed here are his own