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The killing of Khalistani separatist leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar in Canada last June has sparked a major diplomatic row between India and Canada. Nijjar, a Canadian citizen who headed the banned Khalistan Tiger Force (KTF), was shot dead outside a gurdwara in Surrey, British Columbia on June 18.
Weeks before publicly accusing India of involvement in Nijjar's killing, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had discreetly sought support on the matter from allies in the Five Eyes intelligence partnership, as per a recent Washington Post report. However, Trudeau's request was denied by the US, UK, Australia and New Zealand.
This week, in a dramatic escalation, Canada and India both expelled diplomats in retaliation after Trudeau told reporters there were "clear indications that the shooter had ties to India". India outrightly rejected the allegations, urging Canada to take action against Khalistani extremists operating from its soil instead. The row has put Five Eyes allies in a tough spot, forced to strike a delicate balance between the positions of Canada and India.
The Killing of Hardeep Singh Nijjar
45-year-old Nijjar headed the Khalistan Tiger Force, a banned terrorist organization in India seeking to create an independent Sikh homeland called Khalistan. Considered one of India's most wanted terrorists, Nijjar had been on the run for years before eventually settling in Canada as a permanent resident.
On June 18, Nijjar was shot dead by two unidentified gunmen in the parking lot outside Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara in Surrey. The brazen public shooting in broad daylight shocked the local community. Nijjar was cremated in a well-attended funeral at Fraser Heights Funeral Home a few days later. As the investigation into his murder kicked off, it would spark a growing diplomatic crisis between Ottawa and New Delhi.
Canada's Allegations Against India
After initially staying mum on Nijjar's killing, Trudeau dropped a bombshell statement on CBC News earlier this week. During the interview, he asserted, "There were unmistakable signs linking the shooter to India". Accusing India of undermining Canada's sovereignty, Trudeau said “we can't let external forces threaten Canada's national security”. He indicated the Canadian government and intelligence agencies had arrived at this assessment, but did not provide any evidence.
The sensational allegations immediately set off a diplomatic firestorm. An incensed India firmly rejected Trudeau's claims, terming them "absurd" and completely lacking in credibility. India's Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) implied the statement was an attempt to divert attention from Canada's reluctance to crack down on Khalistani extremists within the country.
Canada Expels Indian Diplomat, India Retaliates
After Trudeau's shocking accusations, Canada asked India to withdraw a consular officer from the Indian High Commission in Ottawa. India responded by expelling a senior Canadian diplomat, signaling the rapidly deteriorating ties.
According to Canadian broadcaster Global News, the official expelled by Canada was an intelligence officer. His expulsion signifies Canadian agencies suspect the Indian intelligence community's hand in Nijjar's murder.
India's Ministry of External Affairs called the move "patently unfair", claiming the official was discharging duties commensurate with his diplomatic status. As a retaliatory measure, India declared a Canadian consular officer persona non grata and ordered him to leave the country within 24 hours.
The reciprocal expelling of diplomats highlights how quickly diplomatic relations have soured between the two countries as a result of the Nijjar killing. Both sides seem to be taking a hardline stance, unwilling to back down on the matter.
Five Eyes Allies Caught in The Middle
According to The Washington Post report, Trudeau had discreetly sought support from Five Eyes allies weeks before going public. Five Eyes is an intelligence sharing alliance between the US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. However, the request was reportedly denied by the allied nations who did not find Canada's evidence convincing.
Now in the midst of a full blown India-Canada crisis, the other Five Eyes nations find themselves in a delicate position. They have been careful not to take sides, while urging both countries to resolve the matter through dialogue.
The White House termed the allegations "serious" and said it remains in contact with Canada, calling for a full investigation. The UK also backed Canada's right to investigate while urging India to cooperate. Australia said it had raised concerns over the issue with India at senior levels, while affirming respect for the rule of law.
The muted response from Five Eyes allies likely reflects their difficult strategic balancing act. These nations have robust ties with both India and Canada. Publicly backing either side in the current crisis doesn't serve their interests. According to experts, the allies are likely counseling restraint and pushing for de-escalation through private diplomacy.
India Rejects Claims, Points Finger at Canada
India has come out guns blazing in its official response, showing no willingness to back down. The MEA rejected Trudeau's claims as "unwarranted and tendentious”, devoid of any evidence. It termed his accusations a transparent attempt to politicize a criminal investigation for domestic political purposes.
Further, India accused the Canadian government of tacitly approving the rise of extremism on its soil. It pointed to continued incidents of violence and threats against the Indian community from Khalistani groups based in Canada. Examples include vandalizing Hindu temples, confronting Indian diplomats and even attempting to sabotage India's friendly ties with Canada.
India called on Canada to stop the politicization of the Nijjar investigation. Instead, it should take concrete steps against extremist Khalistani outfits threatening peace and stability in India from the Canadian safe haven. This long-standing demand from India just gained more urgency in light of the recent row.
The Road Ahead for India-Canada Ties
The war of words over the killing of Hardeep Singh Nijjar has necessitated damage control efforts from both sides. Unless tempers cool down soon, there is a real risk of long-term harm to the bilateral relationship.
Canada and India have traditionally enjoyed warm ties rooted in a shared Commonwealth heritage. However, in recent years ties have been strained by the issue of Khalistani separatism in Canada. Trudeau's Liberal Party in particular has been accused of pandering to pro-Khalistan elements among the politically influential Punjabi community.
The Nijjar controversy underscores the elephant in the room that is Khalistan, which has now plunged the relationship into crisis. With national elections coming up next year, domestic political pressures may prevent Trudeau from backing down easily. For India as well, appearing soft on terrorism could carry heavy political costs.
Diplomatic observers expect third-party mediation, especially from common allies like the US and UK, to defuse tensions. Both countries have an interest in preserving security cooperation related to issues like terrorism and China's regional power.
Eventually, long-term bilateral interests may necessitate leaving the Nijjar episode behind through constructive dialogue. But the path ahead remains filled with uncertainty as diplomatic ties plumb new lows. For now, the controversy underlines how counterterrorism and domestic politics continue to bedevil India-Canada relations.
Summarized from the original article by - msn.com
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