India must convince the US that it is a trustworthy ally
The cat is out of the bag now. An indictment in a Manhattan court says an Indian may have orchestrated a plot to kill a Sikh separatist and Khalistan sympathiser that was foiled by an US government agency.
The suspicions over involvement in some way of the Indian government behind a conspiracy to assassinate a foreign citizen, in this case Gurupatwant Singh Pannun who is a dual US-Canadian citizen on US soil, puts at risk the close India-US ties that have been built up in the most recent past.
With an Indian citizen, Nikhil Gupta, extradited out of the Czech Republic to the US, in the centre of the storm, plausible deniability in a possible covert operation has also evaporated. With the matter in court, extensive details like an advance paid in US dollars for the “hit”, with the plot becoming traceable to a retired central forces police officer, may be out in the open soon.
It is not as if official India was not aware of this as the issue of attempted extrajudicial killing, going back to last June when the Indian was extradited, may have been brought to the attention of the highest in the land by the US, which had also shared intelligence inputs with Canada in the matter of the assassination of Sikh separatist Hardeep Singh Nijjar in a gurdwara car park in Canada.
India was goaded into action as a high-power committee had just been set up to go into US concerns over planned extraterritorial killings by agents acting on behalf of the Indian state. But the plot thickened with the alleged assignment being offered to an undercover officer of the US Drug Enforcement Agency and the ensuing indictment. India would have to be at its convincing best to explain that the action contemplated was not officially sanctioned.
The New York indictment comes as an acute embarrassment for a country that may have protested loudly that it does not indulge in assassination of inconvenient people. Rebels and separatists threatening the sovereignty of a country are not necessarily targets like militants and terrorists who leave themselves open to such action by any country’s security forces.
Until now, India may have had a passing association with covert acts by its intelligence agents and the people they may employ in such handiwork. But now it appears the country may have more to answer for if, indeed, the facts laid out in the charges in the New York court are backed by evidence to merit a conviction.
India was able to brush away similar charges made by Canada as that country has not gone beyond its Prime Minister airing them on the floor of Parliament. But, till now, there have been no charges filed by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police against specific persons who may have been involved in the killing of Nijjar, who was another vociferous proponent of Khalistan and was, like Pannun, was designated as a terrorist by India.
At stake in what may be protracted rounds of backdoor diplomacy may be far more explaining any suspected clandestine action to get rid of Sikh separatists. India must convince the US that it is a trustworthy ally which has been receiving much attention from the West regarding commitments to assistance towards its security in the face of threats from China’s dominant position in the region and defence acquisitions that must diversify away from Russian supplies because of current geopolitical scenarios.
To come clean on the subject and state its case lucidly on the tensions and threat created by breakaway forces would be in India’s best interests towards securing its strategic ties with the US and the West.