Five Eyes ‘half shut’ as Canada tries to gather allies’ support over Nijjar-India claims
Western powers such as the US and the UK have come up with measured response after Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau alleged India government agents’ links with the Khalistan leader’s murder.
Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau with US president Joe Biden, British prime minister Rishi Sunak and US treasury secretary Janet Yellen at the G20 leaders summit in New Delhi, India, on September 9, 2023. (Photo by LUDOVIC MARIN/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
THE West found itself in an awkward position after the Canadian government alleged links between agents of its Indian counterpart with the murder of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a Sikh separatist leader, as a number of countries from that part are focusing on building robust ties with India.
It is not surprising that Ottawa’s allegations have not generated any uproar among its democratic allies.
West courting India to tackle China
For experts, there are geopolitical reasons why the western nations are not too keen to look too much into Canada’s allegations apart from issuing statements of concern. For instance, the US and a number of other nations are courting India nowadays as a counterweight to China.
Stephanie Carvin, a professor of international relations at Ottawa’s Carleton University, told Reuters, “India is important in Western calculations for balancing China, and Canada is not.”
“This really does put Canada offside among all other Western countries,” she added.
On Monday, Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau said that his government was “actively pursuing credible allegations” that Indian agents had potentially been involved in the killing of Nijjar in Surrey, British Columbia, in June.
Ottawa had already raised the matter with its key allies such as Five Eyes intelligence-sharing alliance that also includes the US, UK, Australia and New Zealand.
Canada’s allies give cautious reactions
The allies have been very cautious. The UK refused to criticise India publicly and said bilateral trade talks with India continue as per the plan. A statement from its foreign secretary James Cleverly on the matter did not mention India’s name.
In a post on X, formerly Twitter, he said, “All countries should respect sovereignty and the rule of law. We are in regular contact with our Canadian partners about serious allegations raised in the Canadian Parliament. Important that Canada’s investigation runs its course and the perpetrators brought to justice.”
The UK has its limitations, feel experts. Chietigj Bajpaee, an India expert at the Chatham House think tank in London, told Reuters that the Rishi Sunak government has been caught between supporting Canada and irking India, a country that it wants to have strong trade partnership with and a friend to tackle China.
“Short of there being any definitive evidence of India’s involvement, I think the UK response is likely to remain muted,” Bajpaee was quoted as saying by the news outlet.
The US also came up with a measured response. National security adviser John Kirby said Washington was “deeply concerned” and encouraged officials of the Narendra Modi government to cooperate in any probe.
According to the Washington Post, the Canadian premier had pushed for a joint statement slamming India at the G20 summit held earlier this month in New Delhi but its allies, including the US, did not agree.
The American NSA said “any reports that we rebuffed Canada in any way whatsoever are false, and we will continue to coordinate and consult with them on this”.
Australia said it was “deeply concerned” by the allegation and the spokesperson for its foreign minister Penny Wong told the country’s SBS News that Canberra believes that all nations “should respect sovereignty and rule of law”.
The country also said that it expressed “concerns” to India “senior levels”.
When Australian prime minister Anthony Albanese was asked by a reporter as to whether he rued calling his Indian counterpart Modi “the boss” earlier, he said the reporter needed to “chill out a bit”.
Also when he was asked whether he had joined Trudeau in raising allegations with Modi at the G20 summit, the Australian premier dodged saying he doesn’t talk about Five Eyes Intelligence at a press meet. “That’s why it is called Intelligence,” he said.
New Zealand also came up with a muted response. “If those claims were proven true, that would be of serious concern. I won’t comment further on what is an ongoing criminal investigation in Canada,” the NZ Herald quoted the country’s foreign minister Nanaia Mahuta as saying.
Such responses are in stark contrast to the uproar that was seen after Russian double agent Sergey Skripal and his daughter Yulia were poisoned by nerve agents in England in 2018. A number of western nations, including the UK, US and Canada had expelled more than 100 Russian diplomats for the attack that Moscow denied it had carried out.
“Our Five Eyes partners are understandably reluctant to really wade into this, given everybody’s interest in advancing ties with India, in the context of the ongoing tension with China,” Wesley Wark of the Centre for International Governance Innovation think tank in Waterloo, Ontario, told Reuters.
‘It’s a bit of a waiting game’
“It’s a bit of a waiting game. If the Canadians come up with very solid evidence about egregious Indian state involvement in an assassination attempt, I think we’ll hear more from our allies in support,” he added.
However, still that happens — something veteran Canadian journalist and author Terry Milewski told India Weekly would be a miracle given the fact that the police were yet to charge or identify Nijjar’s shooters — Ottawa’s options seem to be limited.
Richard Fadden, former chief of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, told CTV that if the Trudeau government failed to garner its allies’ support, either in open or in private, it will be unable to do much to move New Delhi.
“And I think the greatest thing we can aspire to in the short term or the medium term is to get India not to do this again,” he was quoted as saying.
Sources in the Canadian government said that they would have preferred to wait a little more before making the claim but yet had to act since some domestic media outlets were about to break it, according to the Reuters report.
One source added that the Canadian prime minister would not have spoken “out loud” if they didn’t have the “information lining up into a fact base”. The sources were hoping that more information would surface soon.
A senior source told the news outlet that Canada has not publicised the intelligence it has since an active murder investigation is underway.