The Pannun-Sized Problem in India-US Ties

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The Pannun-Sized Problem in India-US Ties Blog Image

What’s in Today’s Article?

  • Why in News?
  • What are the USA’s Charges Against India?
  • What Preceded the Indictment by the USA?
  • India’s Reaction to these Unforeseen Developments and Indictment Charges:
  • US-India Ties - A Values-Based Relationship or an Interests-Based One

Why in News?

  • India and the US are confronted with a major diplomatic challenge, as an Indian intelligence official stand accused of orchestrating a plot to kill Khalistan separatist (Gurpatwant Singh Pannun) in New York.
  • The Indian government released a statement suo moto hour earlier, saying it had constituted a high-level inquiry committee (on November 18) to probe “all the relevant aspects of the matter”.

What are the USA’s Charges Against India?

  • According to the indictment, the Indian official (in May 2023) recruited one Nikhil Gupta to kill Pannun.
    • This was the month when the Indian PM had travelled to Hiroshima to attend the G7 and Quad leaders’ summit along with US President Joe Biden.
    • In the same month, the India-US Defence Industrial Cooperation Roadmap was concluded, which seeks to fast-track technology cooperation and co-production in areas of mutual interest.
  • The indictment said that the Indian official has described himself as a “Senior Field Officer” with responsibilities in “Security Management” and “Intelligence.”
  • He has also been referred to as previously serving in the Central Reserve Police Force and receiving “officer training” in “battle craft” and “weapons.”
  • This is one of the most direct charges made against an Indian government official, and has the potential to cast a shadow on the Indo-US ties - if not managed in a mature manner.
  • In Canada, the PM Justin Trudeau said that the news coming out of the US further underscores what we have been talking about from the very beginning.

What Preceded the Indictment by the USA?

  • The US indictment comes after months of diplomatic and intelligence-level conversations between Washington and New Delhi.
  • While the US administration came to know of the plot in July, US NSA Jake Sullivan met NSA Ajit Doval in Jeddah on the sidelines of a meeting on Ukraine in early August.
  • Within a week, CIA Director William Burns came to India and met the top intelligence apparatus.
  • Considering it was a sensitive time, in the run-up to the G20, the conversations about the assassination were kept separate from the G20 joint communique negotiations.

India’s Reaction to these Unforeseen Developments and Indictment Charges

  • India's attitude toward US inputs is notable (cooperative) given how it has previously ignored similar Canadian charges.
    • Canada’s PM had alleged the hand of Indian government agencies in the killing of another Khalistan separatist, Hardeep Singh Nijjar.
    • Delhi did not take this kindly, and even called Canada a “safe haven” for “terrorists, extremists and organised crime” - a language usually reserved for Pakistan and Afghanistan.
  • In the US matter, the Indian government has exercised restraint considering the gravity of the charge.
  • The depth and importance of the ties with the US has been given priority over the allegations against an Indian official.
  • This shows that the government wants to contain the damage and not let it become a full-fledged diplomatic crisis.
    • The MEA spokesperson’s response to the indictment that it is a “matter of concern” and “is contrary to Indian government’s policy” is an indicator of this approach.
  • After all, the Indian government is also keen to have Biden here for the Republic Day celebrations in January next year, along with other Quad leaders.

US-India Ties - A Values-Based Relationship or an Interests-Based One

  • The US-India ties have truly been forged in crisis over the last 75 years.
  • The relationship has gone through years of ups and downs,
    • From the 1971 war when the US under Nixon-Kissinger took a hostile stance,
    • The two nuclear tests in 1974 and 1998 which saw sanctions imposed, and
    • Then the thaw, culminating in the Indo-US nuclear deal.
  • India's relationship with the US has been the most comprehensive association the country has had since independence, as this is truly a relationship forged in crisis.
  • Despite challenges like the diplomatic differences over the arrest (in 2013) of former deputy consul general in New York (Devyani Khobragade) and the recent divergences over the Russia-Ukraine war, the ties have held steady.
  • The US is India's largest trading partner with a bilateral trade in goods and services crossing US$ 191 billion in 2022, and both countries are acting in coordination to confront Chinese belligerence in the Indo-Pacific region.
  • Unlike Trump's administration, Biden's is a Democratic administration that prioritises values.
  • So, it is in New Delhi’s interest to be transparent with Washington, and take necessary follow-up action based on the findings of the high-level probe committee to avoid any reputational cost.
  • Delhi’s depth of strategic ties with Washington gives it some manoeuvring space to navigate the turmoil the indictment has unleashed.

Q1) What is the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD)?

The Quad is a diplomatic partnership between Australia, India, Japan, and the United States committed to supporting an open, stable and prosperous Indo-Pacific that is inclusive and resilient.

Q2) What is the U.S.-India strategic partnership 2004?

In 2004, the US and India agreed to expand cooperation in three specific areas: civilian nuclear activities, civilian space programs, and high-technology trade. In addition, the two countries agreed to expand our dialogue on missile defence.

Source: Matter of concern, not our policy: Govt on US charge; we told you so, says Trudeau | IE