Jaspal Atwal row: Meeting of Indian, Canadian foreign ministers called off
External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj shelved a bilateral meeting with her Canadian counterpart later this month after relations turned frosty over a theory advanced by a senior official in Ottawa that “rogue elements” in the Indian government were involved in efforts to sabotage Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s February visit to India.
Swaraj had been expected to meet Canadian foreign minister Chrystia Freeland in the last week of April for a dialogue after the latter invited her to Ottawa when they met in New Delhi on February 22, a day prior to a meeting between Prime Ministers Narendra Modi and Trudeau.
Highly placed Indian officials said the April meeting had been called off and no new date has been set.
In New Delhi, the external affairs ministry declined to comment, saying no meeting had been scheduled. An official involved in organising such meetings said, “All high level meetings are decided through diplomatic channels. As and when such a trip is finalised, an announcement will be made.”
The senior Canadian official had said “rogue elements” in the Indian government had planted Indo-Canadian Jaspal Atwal, convicted of terror-related charges, at a Canadian-hosted dinner to embarrass Trudeau.
The Indian government angrily rebutted the charge that it had any role in Atwal’s invitation to the formal dinner reception hosted for Trudeau at the residence of Canada’s high commissioner. Atwal was imprisoned in Canada in 1987 on charges relating to an assassination attempt on a visiting minister from Punjab.
The “rogue elements” theory was advanced in briefings to the Canadian media by an unnamed senior government official, later revealed to be National Security Advisor Daniel Jean.
The Atwal affair may well continue to cast a long shadow on bilateral ties. A veteran Indian diplomat said relations had hit “rock bottom” after Trudeau himself supported that theory multiple times, including in the House of Commons.
Even as relations have come to a standstill, the matter continues to haunt the Canadian government. Jean has offered a classified briefing to Opposition leader Andrew Scheer and “openly” testified before the House of Commons’ public safety committee, according to the Canadian Press wire service.
The national security and intelligence committee of parliamentarians will conduct “a special review of the allegations that have been raised in the context of the Prime Minister's trip to India in February 2018, specifically those relating to foreign interference in Canadian political affairs, risks to the security of the Prime Minister, and inappropriate use of intelligence”, according to a statement released by the committee’s secretariat.
The committee, which includes members of the House of Commons and Senate, will provide a special report to Trudeau and the foreign affairs and public safety ministers by the end of May, and an unclassified version of the document will be tabled in Parliament.