Canadian politics may hit terror agreement with India

The agreement, which equated groups associated with Khalistani terrorism with al-Qaeda, Islamic State and Lashkar-e-Taiba, has received criticism in Canada.

world Updated: Mar 08, 2018 20:18 IST
Anirudh Bhattacharyya
Anirudh Bhattacharyya
Hindustan Times, Toronto
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Canadian counterpart Justin Trudeau in New Delhi on February 23, 2018. (AFP)

A pathbreaking agreement between India and Canada on combating terrorism, the seminal outcome of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s recent visit to India, may turn into a non-starter due to the backlash against it in Canada and events that have followed the bilateral trip.

Concern is growing in India, and obviously within the government, that the Framework for Cooperation on Countering Terrorism and Violent Extremism may well be undermined by political compulsions in Canada, and it may remain largely on paper rather than put into practice.

The framework was agreed upon on February 14, three days before Trudeau’s arrival in India, but formally released nine days later after the bilateral meeting between him and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Ironically, the Canadian official who signed the framework, National Security and Intelligence Officer Daniel Jean, was the person identified by Canadian media as having held briefings blaming “rogue” elements within the Indian establishment of trying to sabotage the visit.

Indian officials refused to comment on the matter given its sensitive nature, but there is a clear sense of frustration over how such an important pact could potentially be sabotaged by concerted opposition to it.

Former Indian high commissioner to Ottawa Vishnu Prakash said, “Everything should henceforth be taken with more than a pinch of salt.”

The agreement is “based on fundamental respect for the sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity of India and Canada” and “institutionalised cooperation between the National Security Council Secretariat of the Republic of India and the office of Canada’s National Security and Intelligence Advisor, and regular exchanges and coordination between India and Canada”.

It also equated groups associated with Khalistani terrorism, such as Babbar Khalsa International and International Sikh Youth Federation with al-Qaeda, Islamic State and Lashkar-e-Taiba, among other major terror groups.

It has drawn immediate criticism in Canada.

Gurpatwant Pannun, legal advisor to the hardline activist group Sikhs for Justice, said, “What act of violence has been funded by Canadian Sikhs? They (Indian government) cannot defame the (Sikh) community.” He also said that India “cannot dictate the terms, it’s not going to work in the end”.

Earlier, World Sikh Organisation senior vice-president Bhavjinder Kaur said in a statement, “Indian intelligence bodies continue to be accused of interfering in the affairs of Sikhs in Canada. While increased trade between Canada and India is beneficial to both countries, it cannot be at the expense of our human rights and principles or by compromising the safety and security of individuals, as may happen with this framework.

“Without dramatic improvements to their human rights records, increased cooperation with Indian security and intelligence bodies is very problematic.”

There are others, though, who have a more optimistic view, like Kwantlen Polytechnic University professor of political science Shinder Purewal, who said, “Knowing that Canadian officials don’t have these kind of political links, they will see it from another angle, even if the political will is not there.”

He also said that one of the issues here was that of “Khalistani terrorism, particularly the money trail from here to India. If the Canadian government can stop it, that will be an accomplishment.”

However, that positive sentiment is not necessarily shared at this time in New Delhi.

First Published: Mar 08, 2018 20:18 IST