Alleged Indian hit squad has major foreign policy implications

Official claims the Indian government killed Sikh leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar have significant political and geopolitical ramifications. It should put the Conservatives on the back foot while undermining the ongoing China foreign interference panic and Canada’s anti-Beijing Indo Pacific strategy.

After raising the assassination with the Indian government and being contacted by the Globe and Mail about the matter, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reported Monday that Canadian police and security agencies believe India was responsible for Nijjar’s brazen murder outside a Surrey BC temple in June.

While it’s important to be cautious about the claims of police and intelligence agencies, the conclusion in this case should be given added weight since they contradict the agencies pro-US geopolitical bias. Additionally, the Indian government labelled Nijjar a terrorist and other Khalistan, a Sikh separatist movement, leaders have recently been killed in the UK and Pakistan.

The assassination puts the hard-right media and Conservative party on the back foot. The Toronto Sun and National Post ridiculed Trudeau for his frosty relations with Prime Minister Narendra Modi during the recent G20 meetings in India. Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre and party MPs echoed their anti-Trudeau, pro-Modi, perspective. The Conservatives are formally allied to Modi’s ultranationalist BJP party through the International Democratic Union. That alliance of right-wing political parties is chaired by Stephen Harper who visited India in 2019. At the time he tweeted, “The most significant leader of India since Independence, my friend Narendra Modi is shaping every conversation on geopolitics and the global economy. For India to realize its potential, it needs the courageous and visionary leadership of Prime Minister Modi. Proud to stand with him.”

Beyond partisan politics, the assassination throws some cold water on the media’s demonization of China. On Monday the Globe and Mail published a front-page story headlined “Canada must better protect immigrants from foreign threats: report”, which focused entirely on China. It’s now glaring to have omitted India.

Nijjar’s assassination should slightly undercut the China hawks foreign interference claims. Recently the NDP succeeded in broadening the foreign interference inquiry’s mandate to include India, angering a number of ‘national security’ figures. They and the Conservatives wanted it to only consider China. (It should also include the US, Israel and others.)

The related geopolitical ramifications are significant as well. The assassination will undercut Ottawa’s Indo Pacific Strategy, which partly relies on deepening ties to India as part of Washington’s bid to build up that country as a counterweight to China. Released in November, the strategy paper notes, “India’s growing strategic, economic and demographic importance in the Indo-Pacific makes it a critical partner in Canada’s pursuit of its objectives under this strategy.” Beyond its India specific section, the strategy paper calls for “bolstering visa-processing capacities… in New Delhi and Chandigarh, India” as well as strengthening “the Australia-Japan-India Supply Chain Resilience Initiative” and “Canada’s Science, Technology and Innovation partnerships with” India. It also calls for new comprehensive free trade agreement.

In reaction to revelations about the assassination Canada paused trade negotiations with India and trade Minister Ng canceled a planned trip to New Delhi. Deepening other ties will likely be put on hold.

In announcing the information about the assassination, the Trudeau government expelled an Indian diplomat. If the claims about India’s involvement in the murder turn out to be true expect more action to be taken. Unless US geopolitical considerations outweigh the murder on this country’s soil of a Canadian by a foreign government.

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