Diplomatic Eye-EP 09

India-Canada Tensions and Forward-Looking Strategies (Video)

Relationships between Canada and India that have been built over many years on a shared commitment to democratic pluralism, close relationships with one another, and other ideals have recently started to weaken. Tensions over the Khalistan issue have characterised India-Canada relations for more than 40 years. Relations between India and Canada originally soured in the mid-seventies as a result of India’s first nuclear test. Prior to that point, Canada had been a major exporter of civil nuclear technology.

Origination of the Recent Tensions
On June 18, 2023, two masked men shot and killed Hardeep Singh Nijjar in his truck outside a Sikh temple in Surrey, British Columbia. The 45-year-old Nijjar, who immigrated to Canada in the 1990s, had advocated for the creation of an independent Sikh nation, known as Khalistan, carved out of Punjab state of India. He was wanted by Indian law enforcement and was labelled a “terrorist” in July 2020.

When Justin Trudeau, the prime minister of Canada, stated on Monday that there was “credible” information linking Indian government agents to the assassination of Nijjar, it dropped a bombshell in the bilateral relations, causing a marked deterioration and distrust.

Following Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s claims of “potential” Indian agent’s participation in the murder of Pro Khalistani Nijjar, a Canadian citizen, diplomatic spat between India and Canada erupted earlier this week.  A senior Canadian diplomat was asked to leave India in a tit for tat retaliation to Canada expelling an Indian diplomat a day earlier. India dismissed Canada’s allegations as “absurd” and “motivated”.

Who was Hardeep Singh Nijjar?
Hardeep Singh Nijjar was born in the Jalandhar district in the Punjab region of North India.  In 1997, he migrated to Canada as a young guy, where he later married, had two sons, and worked as a plumber. According to Nadine Yousif of the BBC, India had labeled him a terrorist, accusing him of being the “mastermind” of the Khalistan Tiger Force (KTF), an organization that India outlawed. He was wanted in India for a number of crimes under the country’s Terrorist Act, including the death of Sikh leader Rulda Singh in 2009 and a Punjab theatre explosion in 2007 that left six people dead and 40 injured.

David Cohen’s indication and five eyes
Hindustan Times on September 24 wrote that according to US ambassador to Canada David Cohen, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was made aware of the potential participation of Indian agents in the murder of Nijjar through “shared intelligence among Five Eyes partners.”  Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States form the  ‘Five Eyes’ intelligence-sharing group together.

Diplomatic failures
Large nations frequently engage in coercive diplomacy; which Alexander George defines as “forceful persuasion.” According to George (1991), coercive diplomacy involves four key factors. They are: 1) Demand; 2) Urgency-inducing techniques; 3) Threats of sanctions for noncompliance; and 4) Potential use of incentives. According to George, these factors result in five different types of coercive diplomacy depending on the differences: Ultimatum, tacit ultimatum, try-and-see strategy, gradual screw-turning, and carrot-and-stick tactics are the first five strategies.

Alexander George’s work, “Forceful Persuasion: Coercive Diplomacy as an Alternative to War,” is summarized by Tanya Glaser. Using this article’s example, the author claims that in July 1941, the US threatened to impose an oil embargo on Japan until it withdrew from China. Kennedy effectively used coercive diplomacy in 1961 with the specific aim of supporting the royalist forces in Laos. The US used coercive diplomacy in Nicaragua in the early 1980s to reduce the power of Marxist revolutionaries. In an effort to stop Libya from supporting terrorism, President Reagan used coercive diplomacy against that country. Late in 1990, a coalition of nations led by the US tried to employ coercive diplomacy to force Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait. These are a handful of the instances from Alexander George’s writings that Tanya Glaser highlighted and condensed in her article “Beyond Intractability Resources.”

India’s Coercive Diplomacy in Our Context
Two examples are given how India used Coercive diplomacy in South Asian perspective.

Nepal-India Relations
The relationship between India and Nepal has many ups and downs. India has occasionally utilized coercive diplomacy in Nepal.

Initially enacted in 1970:

India impeded the entry of products into Nepal in 1970 soon after Nepal constructed the Kodari Highway, connecting Kathmandu with Tatopani as a trading route with China. It was short-lived, though.

During the 1989 second blockade:

Under the pretence of purchasing Chinese weapons, the Indian embargo, which began in April 1989, lasted for 15 months.

The 2015 Blockade:

Immediately following Nepal’s promulgation of a new constitution on September 20, 2015, a four-month border blockade with India started.  Nepali people were just beginning to adjust to the trail of devastation that a mega earthquake had left when the economic blockade was imposed. In addition to causing a shortage of essential commodities like gasoline, medicines and other necessities, the blockade also increased public animosity and resentment towards India and the Modi administration.

India-Sri Lanka Relations
Through media reports and written works, it is revealed that the Indian government sponsored and supported the Tamil Tigers by providing them with weapons, training, and financial support through its intelligence agency Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) in the early 1980s secretly.  The Sunday Times came out with details about the Indian Connection with LTTE on January 19, 1997, citing Rohan Gunaratne’s book “Sri Lanka Tamil Insurgency.”

Economic and Financial Loss due to India-Canada tensions
Let me bring up the topic of India and Canada again. These countries have suffered significant economic and financial losses as a result of the current escalating tensions between them.

According to the Economic times, a $17 billion bilateral commercial relationship has been strained as a result of the deadlocked trade negotiations. According to Canada Institute Associate Xavier Delgado, Canada’s merchandise trade with India increased from roughly $3.87 billion in 2012 to $10.18 billion in 2022, with significant growths in the sale of Canadian energy exports and import of Indian consumer goods.

The goal of diplomacy is to help countries’ bilateral and even multilateral relationships grow stronger. More than that, diplomacy aims to subtly address the problems the nation is currently facing as well as those it may face in the future. 

Opinions in International Media on Nijjar’s Case:

New York Times:
Opinion Columnist of the New York Times Nicholas Kristof writes that to be fair, the Biden administration did support Canada and urged India to help with the murder probe; nevertheless, it would have been beneficial if Biden had made these calls in the open. He further states that the majority of responses from other countries have been silent or feckless: the Australian prime minister declined to respond at all, while the British foreign secretary tweeted blather that omitted any mention of India.  The influential columnist further adds that Western nations should clearly join Canada in demanding an impartial investigation into the murder and punishment for those involved. This is without assuming the outcome will be positive. It is obvious how quiet the world is right now.

Global Times
Chinese popular media outlet Global Time writes that it is unclear how it would affect the conflict between Canada and India. However, the fallout is likely to remain for some time, regardless of how the India-Canada diplomatic conflict is settled, perhaps casting a cloud over the mutual trust and goodwill between the US and India.

National Post
Michael Higgins, a columnist for the right-wing National Post, also argued that Prime Minister Trudeau “must present a convincing and factual case” to Canadians. “The standard arguments that active investigations and secret security reports preclude publication must be dropped. Answers are needed and warranted for Canadians, says Higgins. In a strong tone, Higgins further writes, If Trudeau has proof that the allegations against India are true, he needs to make it known, persuade Canadians that immediate action is required, and then respond in a tough and forceful manner. It is scarcely proper to expel one Indian diplomat.  Perhaps this is Trudeau’s finest hour. Also, if he fails, it might be the end.

Forward-Looking Strategies

Conciliatory approach and self-reflection
With over 1.4 million Canadians of Indian descent, Canada is home to one of the largest overseas Indian communities. Data from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, according to the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada, show that between 2013 and 2022, the number of Indians who became permanent residents of Canada climbed by 260%.

The official page of the Canadian government mentions that the Canadian High Commission in New Delhi is in charge of representing Canada in India. Along with trade offices in Ahmedabad, Chennai, Hyderabad, and Kolkata, Canada also maintains general consulates in Bengaluru, Chandigarh, and Mumbai. Additionally, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) is well-represented in India; in fact, the High Commission in New Delhi is home to the country’s biggest overseas visa office. India is represented in Canada by consulates in Toronto and Vancouver in addition to a High Commission in Ottawa.

The suspension of Canadians’ visas and the suspension of free trade negotiations will have a severe impact on bilateral ties. According to The Hindu’s Diplomatic correspondent Suhasini Haidar, the Canadian Pension Fund has made cumulative investments in India totaling about $55 billion. Indians make up about 40% of the country’s international students. The recent conflict may negatively affect Indian students aspiring to study in Canada.

The goal of diplomacy is to help countries’ bilateral and even multilateral relationships grow stronger. More than that, diplomacy aims to subtly address the problems the nation is currently facing as well as those it may face in the future. India and Canada have the chance to evaluate if their diplomatic efforts for the last 40 years have helped to settle current problems or have merely contributed to make them worse. It is imperative that they examine their flaws and move forward while upholding diplomatic standards.