ISLAMABAD: A day after Canada accused India of being involved in the assassination of a Canadian citizen, Hardeep Singh Nijjar in June 2023, Pakistan came out with hard-hitting statements, both from Islamabad and New York.
“The news of Indian involvement in an extra-judicial killing in Canada has shown that India’s network of extra-territorial killings has now gone global. India’s assassination of a Canadian national on Canadian soil is a clear violation of international law and the UN principle of state sovereignty. It is also a reckless and irresponsible act that calls into question India’s reliability as a credible international partner and its claims for enhanced global responsibilities,” said the spokeswoman at the Foreign Office during the weekly media briefing.
In New York, Foreign Secretary Syrus Qazi, when asked to comment, said: “This is no surprise for us, but the world must realise what are the ways of the country they have made their supposedly indispensable ally. There must be some truth to the Canadian premier’s allegation, that’s why they levelled it. We are aware of the nature of our eastern neighbour, we know what they are capable of… so it is not a surprise for us.”
Qazi also pointed out, “If there is any country that understands India correctly, that’s us. And we are the only country in many respects that is not afraid of India,” highlighting that Pakistan had been resolutely protecting its freedom against a rival country 60 times bigger in size. “We have been doing this for the past 70 years… and will do it again when the need arises,” he said.
Both the spokeswoman and the foreign secretary pointed to the arrest of self-confessed Indian Naval Commander Jhadav Kulbushan. “For decades, Indian intelligence agency RAW has been actively involved in abductions and assassinations in South Asia. Pakistan has remained the target of a series of targeted killings and espionage by RAW. In December last year, Pakistan released a comprehensive dossier providing concrete and irrefutable evidence of India’s involvement in the Lahore attack of June 2021. That attack was planned and executed by Indian intelligence. In 2016, a high-ranking Indian military officer, Commander Kulbhushan Yadav, confessed to his involvement in directing, financing and executing terror and sabotage in Pakistan,” added the spokeswoman.
Meanwhile, India advised its nationals in Canada to exercise caution as ties between the two countries dropped to a new low following allegations of New Delhi’s involvement in the murder of a Sikh leader.
Tension has grown since Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said earlier this week Canada was investigating “credible allegations” about the potential involvement of Indian government agents in the murder of Hardeep Singh Nijjar in British Columbia in June.
“In view of growing anti-India activities and politically-condoned hate crimes and criminal violence in Canada, all Indian nationals there, and those contemplating travel, are urged to exercise utmost caution,” India’s foreign ministry said. “Given the deteriorating security environment in Canada, Indian students in particular are advised to exercise extreme caution and remain vigilant,” the ministry added in a statement.
India has been the largest source nation for international students in Canada since 2018. That figure rose 47% last year to nearly 320,000, making up about 40% of total overseas students, says the Canadian Bureau of International Education, which also helps institutions provide a subsidised education to domestic students.
On Wednesday, a private entertainment company, BookMyShow, announced the cancellation of an India tour by Canadian singer Shubhneet Singh. Canadian officials have so far declined to say why they believe India could be linked to Nijjar’s murder.
India’s main opposition Congress party also backed the government’s rejection of the accusations, urging a stand against threats to the country’s sovereignty. “Trudeau’s defence of declared terrorist Hardeep Singh Nijjar is absolutely shameful and shows how much the present Canadian regime is in bed with Khalistani sympathisers,” Abhishek Manu Singhvi, a senior Congress lawmaker, posted on social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter.
New Delhi has long been unhappy over Sikh separatist activity in Canada and urged it to act against anti-Indian elements. A former chief of India’s external spy agency, the Research and Analysis Wing, said it was strange Trudeau had announced the expulsion of an Indian diplomat in parliament. “We don’t do these things,” the Economic Times newspaper quoted A.S. Dulat as telling the Press Trust of India news agency. “We do not go around assassinating people, let me make this very clear.”
Canada has the largest population of Sikhs outside the Indian state of Punjab, with about 770,000 people reporting Sikhism as their religion in the 2021 census. Some Indian analysts say Ottawa does not stop Sikh protesters as they are a politically influential group. Both sides have said they are freezing lengthy talks on a potential trade deal. Canada and India have been trying to boost low levels of two-way trade, which accounted for just $10.2 billion in 2022, out of Canada’s total of $1.13trillion.
Meanwhile, the US has said it supports Canada’s efforts to probe the killing of a Sikh separatist leader on its soil — in which Ottawa alleges India has been involved — and urges New Delhi to cooperate in the investigation. “We believe a fully transparent comprehensive investigation is the right approach so that we can all know exactly what happened, and of course, we encourage India to cooperate with that,” John Kirby, spokesman for the White House National Security Council (NSC), said while speaking to CNN.
Kirby termed Canada’s allegation “very serious” and said US President Joe Biden was mindful of the accusation. Asked whether the US knew what intelligence Canada based its allegation on, Kirby replied: “I am going to be careful about what I say here to preserve the sanctity of this investigation and leave it for Canada to talk about the underpinning information here and what more they are trying to learn.
“We want to respect that process and it’s their investigation.”
To a question about possible repercussions if it was proved that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi ordered the killing, he said: “Let’s not get ahead of where we are. There’s an active investigation and we think it needs to be fully transparent and comprehensive.
“We know that Canada will work to that end. Again, we urge India to cooperate with that investigation… Once we have all the facts and we have conclusions that we can draw from that, then you can start to look at recommendations or behaviours you might want to pursue.”
Separately, another NSC spokesperson, Adrienne Watson, denied reports that the US had “rebuffed” Canada over the matter. She shared a post on X by the Washington Post, which said: “President Biden has aggressively wooed India’s Modi as a counterweight to China. That effort is now complicated by Canada’s explosive allegation that Indian officials may have been behind the slaying of a Sikh separatist leader in British Columbia.”
Reacting to it, Watson said: “Reports that we rebuffed Canada in any way on this are flatly false. We are coordinating and consulting with Canada closely on this issue. This is a serious matter and we support Canada’s ongoing law enforcement efforts. We are also engaging the Indian government.”
In Canberra, a spokesperson for Australian foreign minister Wong had said Australia was “deeply concerned by these allegations and notes ongoing investigations into this matter”.
“We are closely engaged with partners on developments. We have conveyed our concerns at senior levels to India,” said the Australian official.
Meanwhile, the FO spokesperson, when asked about the present status of Kulbushan and engagement with India, replied that the main channel of communication between Pakistan and India remains our two missions, which are at reduced strength and at the level of charge d’affaires. “There is also the engagement that takes place between the Indus Water Commissioners on matters particular to their jurisdiction. The DGMO mechanism is also functional,” she added.
When the spokeswoman was asked about the safety of Pakistanis and Kashmiris from Indian attacks, she responded, “Pakistan expects that Pakistani nationals or Kashmiris wherever they are, will be protected by the host governments. It is their responsibility to ensure safety and security.” She refused to go into details when asked about Pakistan’s position on Khalistan. “This is an issue that does not pertain to Pakistan. This also does not pertain to individuals related to Pakistan. So, I do not have any comments to offer on this question,” she said.
On The Intercept story in which there is a reference that Ambassador Masood Khan had a meeting with Donald Lu where it was discussed the release of $900 million in lieu of arms that Pakistan is allegedly providing to Ukraine, the spokeswoman replied, “First of all, I should underline that our ambassador in Washington meets US officials and congressmen on a regular basis, that is part of his job. He has held multiple meetings with various US officials on various occasions. Secondly, we have already clearly outlined that this report is baseless and fabricated. The IMF standby arrangement for Pakistan was negotiated between Pakistan and the IMF and you all know that in the IMF board, there are multiple stakeholders. The decision to finalise the standby arrangement with Pakistan was taken by the IMF after the two sides agreed to implement certain difficult but essential economic reforms. Giving any other colour to these negotiations is disingenuous.”
When asked to comment on a statement by President of Türkiye on Kashmir she said, “With regard to any specific proposals that may have been made, I would like to get more details before we comment on it. As a matter of policy, Pakistan has always said that it is ready to hold talks with India on all outstanding issues, especially the core dispute of Jammu and Kashmir.”
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