From Nijjar to Pannun: Indian Diplomacy will Have to Be Nimble

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From Nijjar to Pannun: Indian Diplomacy will Have to Be Nimble Blog Image

Why in News?

  • India's response to allegations of its involvement in the murder of Khalistani leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar and a conspiracy against Gurpatwant Singh Pannun varies significantly.
  • Amidst all developments, it is imperative to assess contrasting reactions and diplomatic approaches adopted by India in response to charges from Canada and the United States.

Canada's Allegations and India's Response

  • Absurdity of Canadian Charge
    • India dismissed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's accusation on the floor of the Canadian Parliament as absurd.
    • Moreover, India openly challenged the lack of evidence supporting the claim.
  • India's Continued Emphasis on Lack of Credible Evidence
    • Despite Canada's stance, India emphasises that no substantial evidence has been presented.
    • India's stance maintains a sceptical outlook toward the allegations.

US Conspiracy Claims and India's Reaction

  • Engagement at the Highest Level
    • The US, through a report in the Financial Times, revealed its concerns about India’s alleged involvement in a conspiracy to assassinate Khalistani leader Gurpatwant Singh Pannun who has been declared a terrorist by India.
    • India's response included engagements at the highest level to address the alleged nexus between criminals, gun-runners, terrorists, and others.
  • Curious Formulation of Statement by MEA
    • According to the MEA official spokesperson's statement, India's willingness to investigate the US claims is being explored.
    • This curious formulation is indicative of India’s willingness to investigate US concerns on Pannun, without directly admitting so.
    • India had the option to outrightly dismiss the FT report and the White House’s comments but it did not do so.

Plausible Reason for India’s Different Approach Towards US Stance

  • The Financial Times report claimed that the US possesses a sealed indictment in the Pannun case, indicating the presence of evidence rather than mere intelligence.
  • This potentially elevates the seriousness of the charge compared to Canada's intelligence-based allegations.
  • If the US claims of possessing evidence are correct, its charge is more serious and potentially embarrassing than the Canadian allegations based only on intelligence.

India’s Diplomatic Challenges in Tackling the Khalistani Issue

  • To Navigate Diplomatic Complexities Amid Double Standard of Western Nations
    • Both Nijjar and Pannun, declared terrorists by Indian agencies, are associated with promoting Khalistani separatism.
    • India expresses valid concerns about the lack of global attention to this issue.
    • It is unacceptable for India that any country should seek to cover Khalistani separatism under the guise of freedom of expression or not cooperate to have terrorists face the law.
    • The problem is that despite all their rhetoric, the focus of Western countries is only on those who indulge in violence against their interests.
    • The purpose of Indian diplomacy is to navigate this difficult duplicitous and amoral terrain to pursue national interests.
  • Address Intimidation of Indian Diplomats and No Action by Western Countries
    • Khalistani groups have crossed redlines and have even sought to intimidate Indian diplomats. However, Western countries have not taken Indian warnings seriously.
    • In some countries, especially Canada, domestic political considerations have been given primacy over Indian concerns.

Steps to Be Taken by India

  • Calibrated Diplomatic Response
    • India should respond through calibrated diplomatic steps to make Western countries aware that their laissez-faire attitude to Khalistani separatists and their activities is not acceptable.
    • The decision to ask Canada to reduce its diplomatic staff in India is within the ambit of such diplomatic action.
  • Regularly Monitor Khalistani Activities Abroad
    • It is incumbent on India’s security agencies and diplomatic establishment to monitor the activities of Khalistani support groups abroad. Two specific areas of these groups need special attention.
    • The first relates to any matter connected with their intervention or interference with India’s domestic process. This would naturally include the promotion of separatist sentiment in Punjab.
    • The second concerns their intimidation of members of the Indian diaspora, especially Sikh communities abroad, to become committed to the Khalistani cause.
    • It would be legitimate for India to bring its concerns relating to the activities of Khalistani groups to the attention of the local authorities and expect their intervention when these Indian redlines are crossed.
  • Avoid Ministerial Comments: India must be aware that bald ministerial statements that it is not its policy to violently target individuals abroad will not carry credibility, especially after the FT report and the White House spokesperson’s comments. 


  • While a foreign country, like Canada, should not just ask for cooperation without providing solid evidence, India should also avoid high pitch statements borne out of nationalism.
  • The rule about not admitting guilt applies to countries, not just people, and Western countries have followed this rule.
  • Going forward, India's diplomacy needs to be flexible because being overly patriotic or using clever phrases will not help much.

Q1) What is the Khalistan Movement?

Khalistan is the name given by some Sikhs to the proposed state that would incorporate the Indian state of Punjab as well as other Punjabi-speaking areas of northern India in order to establish a Sikh nation.

Q2) What are some of the challenges to India-Canada relations?

Challenges include trade barriers, concerns over the Sikh separatist movement, human rights issues, visa and immigration policies, geopolitical differences, and perceived lack of focus on India in Canada's foreign policy.

Source: The Indian Express