External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar has said India and Canada should talk to each other to resolve their differences over the death of a Khalistani separatist, but the larger issue of the Canadian government’s ”permissiveness” to terrorism, extremism and violence must be flagged and addressed.
During an interaction with Indian journalists here on Friday, he said India was ready to look into the information related to Canada’s allegations of the ”potential” involvement of Indian agents in the killing of Khalistani extremist Hardeep Singh Nijjar on June 18 in British Columbia.
“The issue is as follows, which is that the Canadians have made some allegations. We have pointed out to them that this is not the government of India’s policy, but if they are prepared to share with us specifics and anything relevant, we are also open to looking at it. So in that sense, that’s where the matter stands,” Jaishankar said.
“But what we do not want to see is an incident treated in isolation because then that somewhere does not convey the right picture,” he said.
”Let’s not normalise what is happening in Canada. What is happening in Canada, had it happened anywhere else, do you think the world would’ve taken it with equanimity?” he asked.
Jaishankar said India has had an ongoing problem with Canada and its government for some years now, and the problem really revolves around the ”permissiveness” regarding terrorism, extremism and violence.
“This permissiveness is also reflected in the fact that some important extradition requests have not been responded to from their side in the fact that there are individuals and organisations who are clearly involved with violence and illegal activities in India who themselves declared it. I mean it is not a secret that they continue to carry on with their activities in Canada,” he said.
Jaishankar said one of the problems is that no incident is isolated and the totality as there is a context for everything.
”There are multiple problems out there. So, I guess in the case of individual incidents, the concerned governments will have to talk to each other and see how they sort of take it forward,” he said.
“But there is a larger issue. And I think it’s important that the larger issue should be flagged. The larger issue is this permissiveness that I have spoken about,” he said.
He said he discussed the ongoing diplomatic row between India and Canada with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan.
“Most important, the fact that our diplomatic missions and our diplomatic personnel have been consistently and continuously intimidated in Canada to a point where today it is not safe for them really to carry on with their work.
”The fact that we’ve had to temporarily suspend our visa operations, it’s not something we would’ve liked to do. It is just that they made it very difficult for us to operate those services,” Jaishankar said. Tensions flared between India and Canada following Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s explosive allegations of the ”potential” involvement of Indian agents in the killing of Nijjar on his country’s soil. India had designated Nijjar as a terrorist in 2020.
India angrily rejected the allegations as ”absurd” and ”motivated” and expelled a senior Canadian diplomat in a tit-for-tat move to Ottawa’s expulsion of an Indian official over the case.
Earlier in the day, Blinken told reporters he hoped that this issue would be resolved by Canada and India.
“We are very concerned about the allegations that have been raised by Canada, by Prime Minister Trudeau,” he said.
”We have been in close contact with Canada about that. And at the same time, we have engaged with the Indian government and urged them to work with Canada on an investigation, and I had the opportunity to do so again in my meeting yesterday with Foreign Minister Jaishankar,” Blinken said.
“Those responsible need to be held accountable, and we hope that our friends in both Canada and India will work together to resolve this matter,” he said.
When asked if there is a deadlock between India and Canada on resolving the issue, Jaishankar said: “I don’t know if I would use the term deadlock.” He said India’s point is that today there is a climate of violence and an atmosphere of intimidation.
“Just think about it. We’ve had smoke bombs thrown at the mission. We’ve had our consulates, violence in front of them. Individuals have been targeted and intimidated. There are posters put up about people,” he said.
“So tell me, do you consider this normal? Would, I mean for a moment, okay, this is about us. If this had happened to any other country, how would they react to it? I think it’s a reasonable question to ask. Jaishankar said it is necessary to call out what is happening in Canada.
He also asserted that it was not acceptable to make threats and intimidate diplomats in the name of freedom of speech.
“We don’t need to learn from other people what freedom of speech is about. But we can tell people this. We don’t think freedom of speech extends to incitement, to violence. That to us is a misuse of freedom,” Jaishankar said.
”It’s not a defence of freedom. I always ask people one question, how would you react if you were in my shoes? If it was your diplomats, your embassies, your people, what would be your reaction?” he asked.
Jaishankar said if there is a requirement for India to look at something, the country is open to it.
He said a lot of Americans are astonished if they are told what most Indians know that there are people in Canada who are advocating violence and separatism.
“I suspect very few Americans notice. So in a way, a lot of what I said at the meetings I think was new to the Americans. When Americans look at Canada, they see something. When we in India, look at Canada, we see something else.
”And that’s part of the problem. So it’s also important that we talk it out with the Americans. After all, they are very close to Canada. They are good friends of ours,” he said.
“So it’s important that they also have an accurate picture, that they have our point of view on this matter as well. I’m not pre-judging issues. I’m not taking absolutist positions. What we have taken is a very reasonable stance,” he added.
Jaishankar said the entire debate should not focus only on issue one and not on issue two and the bigger picture, which has been going on for some time and which is a very serious picture.
“After all, I was thinking back when was the last time that any of our missions was intimidated to a point where it could not continue with its normal function? I will really have to think back. And if someone says this could happen in a G-7 country, in a commonwealth country, it gives you a lot to think about,” Jaishankar said.