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US envoy’s indirect dig at India over Pannun ‘murder plot’: ‘Unacceptable red line’

India faced scrutiny from Canada, the US, and other Western nations over apparent efforts by the Narendra Modi government to target prominent Sikh separatists residing overseas.

BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA – OCTOBER 20: Mayor of Los Angeles Eric Garcetti speaks during day one of the C40 World Mayors Summit Buenos Aires 2022 on October 20, 2022 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. (Photo by Gustavo Garello/Getty Images)

By: Twinkle Roy

US ambassador to India Eric Garcetti has said in an indirect dig at India that any government’s involvement in assassination attempts in a foreign land violates “an unacceptable red line”. His words were the latest in criticism of New Delhi’s alleged plot to eliminate Sikh separatist leader Gurpatwant Singh Pannun in New York. The envoy also called it a basic issue of “sovereignty” and “rights”.

Last year, India faced scrutiny from Canada, the US, and other Western nations over apparent efforts by the Narendra Modi government to target prominent Sikh separatists residing abroad. According to US prosecutors, an Indian government official was implicated in a scheme to assassinate Pannun, a lawyer. However, the plot was thwarted by the country’s security services.

While India said it is investigating the allegations, it also denied any involvement in the murder of another Sikh separatist in British Columbia, Canada, last June. New Delhi has labeled Pannun as a terrorist due to his advocacy for a separate Sikh state independent of India.

Read: India finds rogue officials involved in Pannun murder plot

Garcetti, who spoke on the Pannun assassination plot for the first time, said no government should see itself getting involved in the attempted assassination of a foreign citizen.

In an interview with Asian News International aired on Sunday (31), the US diplomat said, “I think that’s absolutely critical. For any of us, just abstractly, that has to be a red line. No government or government employee can be involved in the alleged assassination of one of your own citizens. That’s just an unacceptable red line.

“Any country, having an active member of their government involved in a second country trying to assassinate one of their citizens. That’s, I think, usually a red line for any country. That’s a basic issue of sovereignty. That’s a basic issue of rights,” he added.

India foreign minister responds

On Monday (1), Indian external affairs minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar responded to Garcetti’s remarks, stating that the latter was expressing “what he thinks is the position of his government.”

At a news briefing, he said, “The position of my government is that in this particular case, there has been certain information provided to us which we are investigating.”

Jaishankar emphasized that New Delhi was conducting a probe into the allegations primarily due to concerns related to its own security interests. “It is something we are investigating as we believe our own national security interests are involved in that investigation,” he said. The Indian diplomat assured that his government would provide updates on the probe when available.

Read: ‘US soil being used for anti-India terror activities’

Pannun, a dual citizen of Canada and the US, has made numerous veiled threats towards India in the past, including references to targeting the Indian parliament, Air India, and Indian officials.

Addressing the threats indirectly, Garcetti highlighted Washington’s commitment to protecting free speech “for better and for worse”. He emphasized that individuals in the US can only face conviction or deportation under the country’s laws.

The US ambassador also cautioned against the practice of arresting individuals for their speech, warning of the dangers of descending into a slippery slope.

“As a Jew, I had people who stood on a freeway overpass in my city condemning Jews. And they’re not arrested. If they threaten violence, they can be. But it’s also a slippery slope. Once you start arresting for what people say, that can go really extreme. And so it’s the American philosophy not to,” he told the Indian news agency.

The ambassador said that New Delhi and Washington were collaborating to identify and hold accountable those responsible for the purported Pannun plot, underscoring the strength of the ties between the two countries.

The startling allegations regarding the Pannun plot surfaced just two months after Canada accused New Delhi of being involved in the murder of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a Canadian individual linked to the Sikh separatist movement in Surrey, British Columbia.

According to reports, Washington informed a broader coalition of allies about the attempted targeting of Pannun following a statement made by Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau last September.

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