India’s overreach

Published September 25, 2023
The writer is a journalist.
The writer is a journalist.

INDIA is having its moment in the sun; the economy is booming, it has landed on the South Pole of the moon and New Delhi just hosted the G20, which was a massive coming-out party for Modi. Earlier, Modi had the red carpet rolled out for him in Washington where the administration fawned over a man who, up until fairly recently, was barred from entering the US due to his complicity in the Gujarat massacres in which over 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed and countless women raped, often in front of their families.

However, times change, and India’s burgeoning economy and its value as a hedge against China meant that Modi must be courted and the performative pearl-clutching over the usual Western obsessions with human rights and such was to be dispensed with. That’s not a complaint; that’s realpolitik.

But the thing with having your moment in the sun is that it can go to your head; as Washington was finalising the menu and selecting silverware, an Indian intelligence operation was underway in America’s ally Canada. There, a pro-independence Sikh leader and Canadian citizen Hardeep Singh Nijjar, was gunned down outside a gurdwara in Surrey, British Columbia on June 18.

Some months later, and conveniently right after the G20 summit had concluded its speeches and photo-ops, came Justin Trudeau’s bombshell where he accused India’s intelligence agencies of being behind the attack. What followed were furious, tit-for-tat expulsions and exchanges, with the accused mastermind, Pavan Kumar Rai, being compelled to leave Canada. India, in its typical style of accusing others of what it itself is guilty of, warned its citizens to “exercise caution” when visiting Canada due to “growing anti-India activities and politically condoned hate crimes and criminal violence” there. After this spectacular example of a pot calling the kettle black — most hate crimes in Canada are committed against Jews, Muslims and Catholics, in that order — India then suspended the processing of visas for Canadians, which is terrible news for the millions of Canadians presumably queuing up to visit India. Diplomatic presence is also being cut back by both countries.

New Delhi believes it can get away with murder abroad.

Meanwhile, India is reacting with typical narrow-minded nationalist bravado, with its media thumping its chest over the ‘muscular new India’ and pointing out the examples of Gen Suleimani and Osama bin Laden while also fervently denying the accusation. Indian social media, in its usual toxic manner, is heaping abuse upon Canada and Trudeau for ‘sheltering terrorists’ while celebrating the fact that along with yoga, assassination is also one of India’s exports. This sells well in the domestic Indian market, where the populace has been fed a daily diet of hate and religious supremacy which often translates into state-condoned violence against Muslims and other minorities.

Seemingly secure in its Western alliance, India has taken the world’s silence as a signal that it can get away with murder abroad, as it has within its own borders and in the region. Unsurprisingly, no one is questioning the possible fallout for fear of being labelled traitors. So in that scenario, any indications of India projecting its power is appreciated, and certainly the more robust the Indian diplomatic offensive is, the better it’ll play in the upcoming Indian polls, especially with the INDIA alliance trying to take the BJP down a peg.

For Canada, taking a soft line would be suicidal; home to many diasporas and dissidents due to its liberal immigration policies, allowing an India-ordered assassination to take place without a reaction would mean there would be no stopping other countries with equal or greater capabilities from doing the same. What if, for example, China were to start eliminating Tibetan, Uighur or Falun Gong activists in Canada? So, as India escalates, Canada has started to drip out information and as per a report in the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Ottawa is in possession of intercepted communications by Indian officials regarding the murder, along with intelligence provided by another member of the Five Eyes network, of which Canada is a part. They have receipts, and will show them in due course.

This places the West in a tight spot, having to balance between India and their old ally Canada. So far, the responses have been muted amid diplomatic calls for the investigation to be completed, but among analysts, think tanks and influential media outlets, the mood seems to be changing amid a realisation that the Indian alliance carries unexpected costs, among which is giving New Delhi the impression that it can do as it likes, and can use the same tactics and policies it uses in the subcontinent, in their own countries as well. While realpolitik will eventually prevail, the mask is well and truly off.

The writer is a journalist.

X (formerly Twitter): @zarrarkhuhro

Published in Dawn, September 25th, 2023

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