US’s flagrant double standards in dealing with anti-India terrorism

Both Ottawa and Washington have historically been rather lackadaisical, if not downright conniving, in their dealing with India’s decades-long attempts to act against the Khalistan movement’s violent underpinnings in the two countries.  

Mayank Chhaya Nov 24, 2023
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US-India 2+2 in Delhi

The Financial Times report that the Biden administration has warned the Narendra Modi government over its alleged involvement in a plot to kill the Sikh separatist leader Gurpatwant Singh Pannun is a bizarrely topsy-turvy example of how the West in general and the US. in particular deals with terrorist threats. 

The U.S. concerns are fraught with potential to strain bilateral ties even though Washington’s own lack of seriousness in dealing with Pannun’s open video threat against Air India is galling. What compounds Washington’s apathy is that New Delhi has formally declared Pannun as a terrorist and authorities are now calling for his extradition in over two dozen criminal cases in India. 

From the Indian standpoint, the U.S. warning is of far greater consequence and worry than similar allegations by Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau over the alleged involvement of the Indian government in the killing of Hardeep Singh Nijjar in June this year. That is because unlike Trudeau, who has provided no specific evidence to India, the Biden administration is said to have shared specific inputs. What is different between the two cases is that in the Pannun case, India’s Ministry of External Affairs has expeditiously acknowledged that some inputs about the plot have been shared by the U.S.  

A sealed indictment 

"During the course of recent discussions on India-U.S. security cooperation, the U.S. side shared some inputs pertaining to nexus between organized criminals, gun runners, terrorists and others. The inputs are a cause of concern for both countries and they decided to take necessary follow up action," Arindam Bagchi, a spokesperson for India's foreign affairs ministry, said in the statement. 

It is a curiously worded statement which speaks of “organized criminals, gun runners, terrorists and others”, indicating that at the very least there is some substance in the allegations of the plot even as New Delhi is clearly distancing itself from any such plot. It was one thing to dismiss Canada over similar allegations about the Nijjar killing but to do it with the U.S. will be way more difficult.  

What makes this case far more worrisome for the Modi government is that U.S. federal prosecutors have filed a sealed indictment against a suspect in New York court, according to the Financial Times report. The sealed indictment, whose content could be damning, gives Washington’s allegations about Pannun much greater credibility than Canada’s did about Nijjar. There are possibilities that the indictment may be unsealed to lend credence to the U.S. claim of the Indian government’s involvement. 

Dangerous indifference 

There is a clear difference in the way the Modi government responded to Trudeau’s allegations, and it is apparently dealing with Washington’s allegations. Once again, the Indian foreign ministry’s statement is quite calibrated in saying, “The inputs are a cause of concern for both countries and they decided to take necessary follow up action.” The reference that the inputs are a cause of concern for both countries is deliberate and meant to convey to the U.S. that there is no official involvement. 

Even if peripheral state actors, with strong plausible deniability for the Indian government, were involved in the Pannun plot, it does not absolve Washington’s flagrant double standards and dangerous indifference in dealing with his open threats. The question that is consistently asked within the Indian establishment is why at the very least Pannun has not been acted against in some fashion if not arrested altogether. 

Both Ottawa and Washington have historically been rather lackadaisical, if not downright conniving, in their dealing with India’s decades-long attempts to act against the Khalistan movement’s violent underpinnings in the two countries.  

A great deal rests on what the sealed indictment contains and what it might reveal once it is unsealed. Until then, the case is expected to remain trapped in inuendoes outside of the official channels.

(The author is a Chicago-based Indian journalist, author, and filmmaker. Views are personal. He can be reached at mcsix@outlook.com)

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