High-level panel looking into US’s security concerns: MEA
India will take “necessary follow-up action” based on the findings of the committee, said External affairs ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi.
India said on Wednesday it has set up a high-level inquiry committee to examine allegations of a conspiracy to kill Khalistani leader Gurpatwant Singh Pannun on US soil, even as a media report said the matter had been raised with New Delhi by the top American leadership.
The Financial Times, citing unnamed people, had reported on November 22 that US authorities had thwarted a plot to assassinate Pannun, a leader of the banned Sikhs for Justice (SFJ), and issued a “warning” to the Indian government over concerns it was linked to the plot.
External affairs ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said the Indian government constituted the high-level inquiry committee on November 18 to look into “all the relevant aspects” of the matter.
“We have already said that during the course of discussions with the US on bilateral security cooperation, the US side shared some inputs pertaining to nexus between organised criminals, gun runners, terrorists and others,” Bagchi said in a brief statement that made no reference to Pannun or SFJ.
He added, “We had also indicated that India takes such inputs seriously since they impinge on our national security interests as well, and relevant departments were already examining the issue.”
Bagchi further said, “In this context, it is informed that on November 18, the Government of India constituted a high-level Enquiry Committee to look into all the relevant aspects of the matter.”
India will take “necessary follow-up action” based on the findings of the committee, he said.
In a related development, the US has charged Indian national Nikhil Gupta with conspiring to assassinate Pannun, the attorney’s office in Manhattan said on Wednesday.
Gupta was arrested by Czech authorities in June and is awaiting extradition to the US. “The defendant conspired from India to assassinate, right here in New York City, a US citizen of Indian origin who has publicly advocated for the establishment of a sovereign state for Sikhs,” Damian Williams, the top federal prosecutor in Manhattan, said in a statement.
An earlier indictment filed against Gupta in June had charged him with paying a hit man to kill Pannun. Gupta allegedly conspired with several others, “at least one of whom is believed to be an official in India”, The Post reported.
The Financial Times report about the alleged plot to kill Pannun came about two months after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made an allegation in September of a potential link between Indian government agents and the killing of another Khalistani leader, Hardeep Singh Nijjar, who was gunned down in the parking lot of a gurdwara in the town of Surrey in June.
At the time, India strongly denied the accusation and dismissed it as absurd. India-Canada relations deteriorated swiftly after the allegation as both sides expelled a senior diplomat each and India suspended visa services for Canadian nationals. The Indian side further sought parity in diplomatic presence, forcing Canada to withdraw 41 diplomats from the country.
During a recent visit to New Delhi, US secretary of state Antony Blinken called on India to work with Canada in its investigation into the killing of Nijjar so that the two countries can resolve their differences on the issue in a cooperative manner.
The external affairs ministry’s statement on Wednesday made it clear that the Indian inquiry was launched four days before the Financial Times reported on the issue on November 22.
Meanwhile, The Washington Post reported on Wednesday that US President Joe Biden, secretary of state Antony Blinken, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, CIA director Wiliam Burns and national intelligence director Avril Haines had all raised the alleged plot to kill Pannun with their Indian counterparts since August. The scheme was foiled by the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in June, shortly after the killing of Nijjar, the report said.
Sullivan “brought his concerns to his counterpart, Ajit Doval,” in person at a meeting in another country in early August. A week later, Burns travelled to India to deliver the same message to his counterpart, The Post reported.
Sullivan “underscored that India needed to investigate [the plot] and hold those responsible, accountable, and that the US needed an assurance that this would not happen again”, The Post quoted unnamed US officials as saying.
Biden stressed the seriousness of the issue at a meeting with the Indian premier on the margins of the G20 summit in September and the “potential repercussions for the bilateral relationship were similar threats to persist”, The Post added.
Blinken and Sullivan raised the issue again when external affairs minister S Jaishankar visited Washington after attending the United Nations General Assembly in September. Haines visited India in October and shared information about the plot with the Indian government, the report said.
There was no immediate response to The Washington Post’s allegations from the MEA.
US National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said Indian counterparts had “expressed surprise and concern” about the allegations and stated that “activity of this nature was not their policy”.