Thursday, February 29, 2024

Mint Explainer: India-Canada ties and the Khalistan challenge

New Delhi: India’s relationship with Canada seems to be in a tight spot. Tensions have flared in recent months over the presence of pro-Khalistan separatist groups in the maple country. In a significant move, just before the G20 Summit, Canada has reportedly suggested putting a pause on the ongoing free trade talks with India. Mint breaks down the development:

What is the background to this?

At the start of 2023, the India-Canada relationship was thought to be on an even keel. Canada’s foreign minister Melany Joly visited India twice in just a month and spoke about a free-trade agreement between the two countries. However, trouble began to surface after a spate of attacks from pro-Khalistan groups on India’s embassies and consulates across the world. These were triggered by the nationwide manhunt for pro-Khalistan preacher Amritpal Singh. Demonstrations outside the High Commission of India in Ottawa were labeled “threatening” by India’s ambassador to Canada. Besides this, there were investigations into the use of smoke grenades in these demonstrations.

How were bilateral ties impacted?

These developments strained the bilateral relationship. India believes that Canada has not cracked down strongly enough on separatist groups. India’s foreign minister S Jaishankar accused Canada of indulging in “vote-bank politics”, in reference to Canada’s large Sikh minority. The implication is that Canada has been reluctant to put pressure on these groups due to its fear of domestic political repercussions.

How has Canada responded?

Canada has stated repeatedly that it remains committed to maintaining security around India’s diplomatic missions. When asked if Canada was “soft” on Khalistani groups, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had pushed back and said those holding this view were “wrong”. “Canada has always taken extremely seriously violence and threats of violence. We have always taken serious action against terrorism and we always will,” he had said. However, Khalistani groups have targeted specific Indian diplomats in propaganda posters in recent months, many of which feature the phrase “Kill India”. This has led to significant outrage in India.

What has happened since?

While tensions have simmered on the issue, news came that Canada has requested India to pause talks for their bilateral free trade agreement. India’s high commissioner to Canada stated that it wasn’t exactly clear why it had asked for a pause. While some have seen the timing as curious, coming just before the G20 summit, others have stated that the Canadian side is simply consulting with trade stakeholders. Nonetheless, it is seen as another sign that all is not well in the India-Canada relationship.

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