Matter Very Serious, Look Forward to Results of India’s Investigation: Blinken on Pannun ‘Plot’

The White House spokesperson welcomed the inquiry committee, which he said showed that India was taking the matter seriously. Anyone who's responsible for these alleged crimes should be held properly accountable, he said.

New Delhi: Stating that Washington took the matter “very seriously”, secretary of state Anthony Blinken said the US government was looking forward to “the results” from the inquiry committee set up by the Indian government to probe the claims made by US investigators that an Indian government official was directing a plot to assassinate a US citizen on American soil.

A day before, US federal prosecutors filed formal charges that an Indian national and an “identified Indian government employee”, among others known and unknown, had plotted to kill a US citizen who is active in the Khalistan movement. The target of the plot was allegedly Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, the general counsel for the Sikhs for Justice group which is banned in India.

Blinken, who was in Tel Aviv, said he would not comment in detail on the matter as it was under judicial consideration but welcomed the investigation launched by India into the matter. “I can say that this is something we take very seriously. A number of us have raised this directly with the Indian government in past weeks. The government announced today that it was conducting an investigation, and that’s good and appropriate, and we look forward to seeing the results,” he said.

White House spokesperson John Kirby also echoed these remarks while highlighting the importance of the bilateral relationship.

“India remains a strategic partner, and we are going to continue to work to improve and strengthen that strategic partnership with India. At the same time, we take this very seriously. These allegations and this investigation, we take very seriously,” he said.

He also welcomed the inquiry committee, which he said showed that India was taking the matter seriously. “We have been clear that we want to see anybody that’s responsible for these alleged crimes to be held properly accountable,” he said.

As The Wire argued, the Joe Biden administration carrying on with a “business-as-usual” attitude in its bilateral engagements with India over the past few months – when it would have been aware of the alleged plot – shows that it is unlikely to up the ante against the Narendra Modi government.

Analysts also agreed that this would be the case. ”In most cases, if Washington accuses a foreign government of staging an assassination on its soil, US relations with that government would plunge into deep crisis,” Michael Kugelman, director of the Wilson Centre’s South Asia Institute, told the news agency AP. “But the relationship with India is a special case. Trust and goodwill are baked into the relationship, thanks to rapidly expanding cooperation and increasingly convergent interests.”

Derek Grossman, Indo-Pacific analyst at the Rand Corp also said the Biden administration has “demonstrated that it is prioritizing the need to leverage India as part of its strategy to counter Chinese power”. The thwarted plot “will have very little, if any” impact on the deepening ties between Washington and New Delhi, he said.

News agency Reuters also reported that the US will not be turned away from India because of the plot. The Biden administration may compartmentalise the issue from the rest of the strategic relationship, said Lisa Curtis, a former senior director for South and Central Asia at the White House’s National Security Council.

Ashley Tellis, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, however, argued that despite the Biden administration bending backwards to avoid a public spat with Delhi, the planned assassination attempt will trouble US officials. While he was also of the opinion that the bilateral relationship will “survive this fiasco,” it will “reinforce the qualms of many who believe that the claims about shared values between the US and India are simply mythology”.