India talks tough with Canada on Khalistan
India has informed Canada that there is little hope for improving frosty bilateral relations if Ottawa doesn’t address New Delhi’s concerns about the burgeoning activities of Khalistani operatives and organisations, people familiar with developments said.
The message was conveyed by external affairs minister S Jaishankar when he held a bilateral meeting with his Canadian counterpart, Chrystia Freeland, on the margins of the G20 Summit in Japan on June 28, the people said.
People familiar with developments in both countries described the meeting as amicable, but said Jaishankar had made no bones about India’s concerns about efforts by Canada-based activists and groups to revive the Khalistan movement and the perceived failure of Ottawa to take a clear stand on the matter.
The matter also figured when Canadian high commissioner Nadir Patel paid a courtesy call on Jaishankar on June 19 and the external affairs minister clearly laid out Indian’s concerns on the Khalistan issue, the people said.
There was no comment on the matter from Indian and Canadian officials though a person, who didn’t want to be identified as he wasn’t authorised to speak to the media, said the issue had been brewing for a long time and India’s concerns could no longer be swept aside.
There was no official readout on the Jaishankar-Freeland meeting from both sides. Official Twitter handles of both countries had tweeted about the meeting in a positive manner, though Jaishankar himself tweeted that he looked forward to “building an even more substantive relationship that reflects both our interests and concerns”.
Officials from both sides, who spoke on condition of anonymity, acknowledged that bilateral ties have largely stagnated since Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s visit to India in February 2018, which was hit by several controversies, including one over the presence of a man convicted of terror charges at an official reception.
There have been virtually no high-level visits since then and Canada’s leader of opposition Andrew Scheer was given a red carpet welcome when he made a trip to India last October. Scheer also held a one-on-one with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, something of a rarity for opposition leaders.
Jaishankar’s meeting with Freeland was also the first bilateral meeting since Trudeau’s visit, and Modi only held a pull-aside meeting with his Canadian counterpart on the sidelines of the G20 Summit.
The officials from both sides acknowledged that counter-terror and security cooperation at the level of officials is robust, but there is a gap as far as Canada’s political leadership is concerned. They also said that Canadian political parties are reluctant to do anything that could upset Sikh and Indian-origin voters ahead of general elections in October.
It was in this context that the Canadian government had scrubbed all references to Sikh and Khalistani extremism in its 2018 report on terror threats in April this year.