The diplomatic crisis sparked by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s accusations against India have now run their course. Both Trudeau’s inability to back his allegations with intelligence and other countries’ unwillingness to back Canada have left Trudeau diminished in the eyes of his own people and Canada’s top allies.
Speaking at the Hudson Institute, External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar addressed US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s calls for India to cooperate with any Canadian investigation.
“The Canadian [prime minister] made some allegations initially privately, and then publicly. And, our response to him, both in private and public, was that what he was alleging was not consistent with our policy,” Jaishankar explained, adding India was “open to” further investigation if the Canadian government “had anything relevant and specific they would like us to look into.”
His subtext was clear: India had enough of American virtue signalling and pandering. If no good crisis should ever go to waste, then how might India take advantage of the crisis with Canada? Already, Trudeau’s miscalculation has focused an overdue spotlight on Canadian permissiveness toward Khalistani terrorism.
Not only has Canada become a hub for money laundering for Khalistani groups, but there is also now a spotlight on the infiltration of Khalistani extremists into the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and into key policy jobs. The Khalistani problem is the Canadian equivalent of Mexican drug cartels corrupting the institutions of state.
Canadian negligence vs. American naïveté
If negligence and malevolence toward India coloured Canada’s approach toward Khalistani extremism, naïveté has shaped the American approach. The 1985 Air India 182 bombing killed 268 Canadians, but no Americans.
The 14 June, 1985 hijacking of TWA 847 and the resulting hostage crisis as terrorists offloaded passengers in Beirut dominated American headlines during the Air India bombing. Subsequent terror attacks on Rome and Vienna airports by the Abu Nidal group killed Americans and solidified Washington’s focus on Palestinian terror.
Americans are also unaccustomed to foreign violence on American soil. It has been almost 70 years since Puerto Rican separatists fired into the House of Representatives from the visitors’ gallery. Those Puerto Rican militants are the closest analogy to the Khalistani terrorists that Americans might understand.
Multiple votes and referendums on Puerto Rico show the independence movement has negligible support on the island. With no outside power financing the Nationalist Party of Puerto Rico or allowing them safe haven to launder money the way Trudeau does with Khalistani groups, the Puerto Rican terrorists faded into oblivion.
So too did America’s memory of the episode. Americans are not accustomed to foreign groups abusing the magnanimity and permissiveness of the American system. This is why the Trump administration was caught unprepared by the 2017 Turkish attack on protestors in Washington, DC. It also explains the shameful inaction regarding the Khalistan militant attack on India’s San Francisco consulate.
No more blind eyes towards terror
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Jaishankar have been clear in what they expect from Ottawa: Canada should cease harbouring terrorists. They should crack down on terror finance. Canadian authorities must also stop pretending that freedom of speech immunises those who incite violence.
Indians are correct to complain that Washington’s concept of security cooperation too often discounts America’s partners. The United States expect New Delhi to back America’s war on terror while ignoring the terror threats India faces.
In order to justify the American withdrawal from Afghanistan, for example, Trump and Biden administration Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad politicised intelligence to pretend the Taliban did not host Al Qaeda in the Indian subcontinent leaders.
The entire episode and an unwillingness to consult India regularly throughout the Taliban “peace” process reflected Khalilzad’s profound disrespect for India, an attitude no American administration should have tolerated. Unfortunately, the State Department continues to ignore or downplay other terror groups that target Indians at home or abroad. They should not.
Just two months and two days after Al Qaeda’s 11 September, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington, Jaish-e-Muhammad attacked India’s Parliament. Six Americans died during the 2008 Mumbai attacks, along with 140 Indians. Each life is equally important.
Unlike the Hardeep Singh Nijjar murder, there is no question about responsibility for the Mumbai attacks: The perpetrators were members of Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Pakistan-based group trained by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency. Pakistan continues to shelter many of the suspects. During an official visit to the United States while still prime minister, Imran Khan acknowledged the presence of 30,000-40,000 militants on Pakistan soil.
This alone should be enough for the United States to designate Pakistan as a state sponsor of terror. That Pakistan then dispatched Masood Khan to be Pakistan’s ambassador in Washington signals that Islamabad mocks concerns about Pakistani terrorism. After all, Khan openly endorsed terror groups attacking India and has met regularly with members of Lashkar-e-Taiba.
Any of these reasons should have been enough for the State Department to designate Pakistan as a state sponsor of terror. Sheltering Al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden should have been the last straw. The American withdrawal from Afghanistan ended Islamabad’s opportunity to blackmail Washington. It is time the United States hold Pakistan to account.
What New Delhi should demand from Washington
After Iraqi President Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990, British prime minister Margaret Thatcher famously told President George HW Bush, “This is no time to go wobbly, George.” Bush swallowed his uncertainty and ordered American forces to liberate Kuwait.
Modi should give a similar message to Biden, or any Republican successor. The Canada crisis provides an opportunity. On 14 September, 2021, Hudson Institute scholars Aparna Pande and Husain Haqqani released a report, “Pakistan’s Destabilization Playbook: Khalistan Separatist Activism Within the US.”
It documents the ISI’s close links to Khalistan activists operating in the United States. Modi should demand the US Treasury Department end to the free flow of money from the ISI to US-based activists’ “Gofundme” accounts, just as in the wake of the September 11 attacks, the Treasury Department cracked down on hawala transfers.
While India is correct to complain about past American double standards between terrorists targetting Americans and those attacking Indians, cooperation to crush the Khalistan movement in North America could make amends.
After all, Pakistan-backed Khalistan terrorists now operate in the United States, as violence in San Francisco and Sacramento show. Indian officials should demand no less than an end to Pakistan’s “Major Non-NATO ally” status, support for its return to the Financial Action Task Force’s blacklist, and Pakistan’s designation by the State Department as a State Sponsor of Terrorism.
These actions are not anti-Pakistani. Quite the opposite. Pakistanis are the greatest victims of the ISI and its terror-sponsoring policies. If Pakistan lived at peace within its own border and ceased its terror sponsorship and irredentism demands, there would be no reason for the United States to sanction it. Until that day, however, reality should trump wishful thinking in the crafting of American policy.
The Canada crisis was a warning Washington should not ignore. To continue to remain blind to Khalistani terrorism would replicate Trudeau’s cynicism and contemptuousness and would make a mockery of the growing security alliance between the world’s two largest democracies. India must find its voice, and America her ears.