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Diplomacy

Canada Was Told it's Not India's 'Policy': S. Jaishankar on Hardeep Singh Nijjar Killing

The external affairs minister avoided giving a direct answer to questions on whether India had received specific evidence on intercepted communications from Canada.

New Delhi: During a conversation at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York on Tuesday (September 26), external affairs minister S. Jaishankar said the Indian government had told Canada that it was “not the Government of India’s policy” to engage in acts like the killing of Hardeep Singh Nijjar.

The event was moderated by former US Ambassador to India Kenneth Juster.

“We told the Canadians that this is not the Government of India’s policy,” Jaishankar said, adding that India had also said it was “open to looking at it” if Canada provided any specific information. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had earlier said that India has been provided with all the necessary information and documentation.

Jaishankar was later asked by a New York Magazine journalist about whether he was provided evidence on the matter by the Canadian government, specifically evidence of intercepted communications (which Canada has said is what links the matter to the Indian government).

“Are you saying that the Canadians gave us documents?” Jaishankar said. “I’m asking,” the reporter replied, and Jaishankar was then asked again if a document regarding India’s intercepted diplomatic communications had been provided. “I have said that if somebody gives us specific or relevant information, we’re prepared to look at it,” Jaishankar responded.

The question on whether India had received evidence regarding intercepted communications was posed again, to which Jaishankar said, “If I had, would I not be looking at it?”

The minister was again asked for a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on whether India had received such documentation, at which point Juster intervened. Jaishankar then refused to entertain a second question from the same journalist.

Jaishankar also refused to answer a separate question on information that had reportedly been shared between the Five Eyes on Nijjar’s killing, as well as threat perceptions that the FBI has reportedly told US-based Sikhs about. “I’m not part of the Five Eyes, I’m certainly not part of the FBI, so I think you’re asking the wrong person,” he said.

While first talking about Canada’s allegations, Jaishankar alleged that the “important context” was that Canada had a “very permissive” environment for secessionist activity.

Canada had seen significant amounts of “organised crime relating to secessionist forces” in the last few years, Jaishankar said.

“We have actually been badgering the Canadians,” he said. “We have given them a lot of information about organised crime leadership, which operates out of Canada. …There are a large number of extradition requests.”

This was the first time Jaishankar addressed the Canada matter directly during his trip to the US. While speaking at the United Nations General Assembly, he had not named Canada but buttressed that terrorism and extremism cannot be fought as per “political convenience” and that respect for territorial integrity cannot be an exercise in “cherry-picking”.

On ‘democratic backsliding’

When asked by a journalist whether India was worried about the perceptions of “democratic backsliding” in the country, as detailed by various international reports, Jaishankar said that reports like this were in fact “riddled with inaccuracies”. This is in line with the Indian government’s previous denials of such claims.

“There’s an ideological agenda out there. I don’t know why that’s hard to understand,” Jaishankar said to the Foreign Affairs journalist who had posed the question.

On India-Russia and India-China

At the same interaction, Jaishankar said that the India-Russia relationship is very stable and both countries made efforts to ensure it remained so.

There had been good and bad periods in the US-Russia, Russia-China and Europe-Russia relationships over the last 70 years, but India’s relationship with Russia had been “very, very, steady”, he said, according to The Hindu. As global powers based out of Asia, India and Russia understood the importance of getting along with each other, Jaishankar continued. “And so we take great care to make sure the relationship is working.”

Jaishankar was answering a question on whether Russia’s proximity to China could affect the India-Russia relationship.

Given the situation in Ukraine, Russia has been looking more and more to building relationships in Asia, the minister continued. “I would actually predict that Russia would make very strenuous efforts to build alternative relationships, a lot of which would be in Asia,” he said.

On India’s relationship with China, Jaishankar said the two countries have been through various cycles and it has never been easy. “I was the ambassador in 2009, right after the global financial crisis, till 2013. I saw the change of guard in China, and then I came to the US. It has never been an easy relationship. It always had its share of problems,” ANI quoted him as saying.

Despite a history of conflict, though, he said there hasn’t been a military or combat fatality on the border since 1975. “It had a war in 1962, it had military incidents after that. But after 1975, there’s never been a military, a combat fatality on the border,” ANI quoted Jaishankar as saying.

While claiming there had been no “combat fatality” since 1975, Jaishankar did not make a reference to the 2020 clash at Galwan Valley, which led to the death of at least 20 Indian Army jawans. However, he did say that the relationship between the two countries had been in an “abnormal state” since the Galwan incident, The Times of India reported, after Chinese troops had moved towards the Line of Actual Control.

China’s explanations given at various points have not been tenable, according to Jaishankar. “And since then, we have been trying to disengage. …We have been partially successful,” he said.