Pannun Issue Strains Bilateral Ties, Biden Dodges India Trip

December 19, 2023

IN THE DRAMATIC CASE OF THE FAILED ATTEMPT to kill Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, a Sikh separatist leader and American citizen, in New York City, and the repercussions of this event, it is simple to either exaggerate or underestimate the significance of the situation. It is a serious matter when an Attorney-General files a formal indictment in the United States judicial system on allegations of a criminal conspiracy that a foreign government carried out on American soil.

Considering that the Pannun case concerns an important foreign state, such as India, considered an “indispensable partner”, the indictment would have been evaluated by both the State Department and the White House for consideration.

Joseph Biden declined India’s invitation to be the country’s Chief Guest on India’s Republic Day, which will take place on January 26, 2024. This decision was not surprising because India has the potential to become a contentious issue. President Biden does not want to put his image at risk during this key election year. According to the Pew Research Centre’s Global Attitudes Project, the US public’s perception of India has shifted negatively in recent years, maybe due to worries about Modi’s leadership.

In a letter dated June 20, 2023, 75 Democratic US lawmakers encouraged President Biden to raise concerns about democratic regression and human rights issues when he pays Prime Minister Modi a state visit. This assessment suggests that a significant portion of the party is quite worried. Human Rights Watch’s June 8 letter expresses similar concerns. Specific areas in which Democrats have criticized Modi’s foreign policy are his close ties with Russia and his stance on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. In addition, they hold a poor view of Modi’s management of border tensions with China.

One should also not forget that the White House had “coordinated” the earlier claims from Canada regarding India’s supposed role in the death of a Sikh activist in Vancouver in June this year. Only a few people noticed that one of Canada’s most important security officials was absent from the Canadian delegation attending the G20 conference in New Delhi.

Jody Thomas, who serves as the National Security Adviser, was not in India at any point of time. At that time, she was in London—the UK is home to a significant number of Khalistani terrorists—on an unofficial visit when she attempted to garner support and disclosed the circumstances of a high-profile political murder that had occurred in Canada. This issue was to explode worldwide in a few days, leading to a real diplomatic conflict between Canada and India. Even though the Canadian security agencies had adequate information about the upcoming effort to assassinate the Sikh leader by the time summer arrived, they were still unable to prevent the murder from taking place. Then, more interesting things started to happen.

Over several months, the Trudeau administration has maintained communication with Canada’s primary allies within the Five Eyes organization. This organization is an intelligence alliance that also includes New Zealand, Australia, Canada and the US. Canada hoped that it would be feasible to release a joint communiqué accusing Delhi of organizing a political assassination on its soil. However, the remaining factions of the coalition hold a slightly different viewpoint.

At this point, the information now available to the public regarding the Pannun case is merely the tip of the iceberg. If Nikhil Gupta, a suspect who is 52 years old and has a history of involvement in organized crime, agrees to a plea deal, there will be a lot more to deal with. In Prague, the US is attempting to get his extradition.

A recent investigative article by The Intercept includes a citation to what the publication asserts to be a genuine document. Pierre Omidyar, the founder of eBay and a well-known American billionaire philanthropist, founded the magazine about 10 years ago. Omidyar is also one of the most significant supporters of organizations and candidates affiliated to the Democratic Party. His media network has been primarily concerned with exposing and campaigning for antitrust activism.

A discussion of India’s alleged “global assassination programme” is the only sensitive and controversial aspect of the report that The Intercept published. Indian diplomats promptly responded by alleging that the magazine is notorious for propagating bogus tales that are being pushed by the intelligence services of Pakistan.

Daniel S Markey, a noted India specialist, stated in a recent interview with Rediff that the indictment in the Pannun case provides significant reason to suspect that Indian security personnel were coordinating and paying for all of these operations. If this is accurate, it appears to reflect a change in the policy of the Indian state; yet, it is not clearly understood who within the Indian system would have allowed and permitted this transition.

Markey stated that there were reasons to suspect that the concept that the Indian establishment had begun an assassination campaign against Sikh dissidents in the diaspora was gaining popularity in the official circles in the US and that the Pannun incident might have played a role in it.

Last month, media reports emerged that India’s most prominent external spy agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW), has discontinued its operations in the North American region. The assassination in Canada, the attempted assassination in the US and the subsequent response from the US, UK and Canada are unparalleled. Until this point, there has never been a single instance in which R&AW has been accused of orchestrating assassinations in Western countries.

The fact that these purported assassinations were planned and carried out in countries that were not only diplomatically and economically friendly with India, but also closely connected to India in terms of the dynamics of global security is what makes the situation even more piquant. R&AW reports directly to the Prime Minister of India. Within the Cabinet Secretariat, a component of the Prime Minister’s Office, the chief of the R&AW is officially designated as the Secretary (Research).




By Girish Linganna
Girish Linganna is a Defence, Aerospace & Political Analyst based in Bengaluru. He is also Director of ADD Engineering Components, India, Pvt. Ltd, a subsidiary of ADD Engineering GmbH, Germany. You can reach out to him at:
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Comment on this article

  • Roland, Mangalore

    Thu, Dec 21 2023

    The analysis of wars in Russia, Israel hamas war and now the Khalistan story . Will appreciate if you can share your analysis of events in Manipur.

  • Gautam Das, Bangalore

    Wed, Dec 20 2023

    No country has the right to kill or conspiracy to kill citizens of other country. US and Canada have already given the information to India. It’s now time for India to come out clean and work with US and Canada with that information. Simply giving one way statements in the media as Modi does in India is not going to prove innocence for Modi. US in 2002 had banned Modi from entry to the US for his role in Godhra massacre and genocide. Now Biden has refused to be the chief guest for India’s Jan 26th republic day. Things are going very sour for India now and China and Pakistan are waiting for an opportunity at the borders.

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