WASHINGTON: The United States is awaiting the conclusion of India’s investigation into the alleged attempt to assassinate a Sikh dissident on American soil before determining whether it constitutes a violation of US sovereignty, according to the State Department.

The State Department unequivocally expressed its strong opposition to “transnational oppression” while addressing concerns about India’s alleged involvement in targeted killings within its immediate neighbourhood.

These issues took centre stage during two consecutive briefings this week, focusing on the reported unsuccessful attempt by India to assassinate Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, a Sikh dissident, in New York.

The cautious response from the US State Department underscores Washington’s challenge in balancing its strategic interests in South Asia and the Pacific region with concerns about ongoing human rights violations allegedly perpetrated by India.

The broader question of Indian intelligence agencies “orchestrating targeted killings in their immediate neighbourhood” was raised by a Bangladeshi journalist, particularly as Bangladesh approaches general elections on Jan 7. Bangladeshi journalists, active in both Washington and New York, accuse India of attempting to eliminate opponents of the Bangladeshi government.

State Department Spokes­person Matthew Miller, when asked about America’s policy on this issue, stated: “We oppose transnational oppression no matter where it occurs or who might be conducting it.”

However, Miller clarified that this was “not a comment specific to India but a comment specific to any country in the world”.

Regarding India’s alleged attempt to assassinate Mr Singh, Miller pointed out that it was an ongoing law enforcement matter, and the US government refrains from discussing such cases publicly.

He deferred to the Department of Justice for details on the case, highlighting the seriousness with which the matter is being handled at the law enforcement level.

Miller revealed that the US government conveyed its concerns at the highest levels to the Indian government, emphasising a diplomatic channel of communication and underscoring the gravity of the situation in bilateral relations.

When asked for more specific details, he stated: “The Secretary of State has raised this directly with his foreign counterpart, emphasising that we take this issue very seriously.”

The Indians, according to Miller, assured their American counterparts of conducting an investigation. “They have publicly announced an investigation.

And now we’ll wait to see the results of the investigation, but it’s something we take very seriously,“ he added.

On the confidence in Indian cooperation, Miller indicated that the US had urged India to cooperate with a separate Canadian investigation into the murder of another Khalistani leader.

However, he refrained from making premature assessments, emphasising the need to await the completion of the investigation.

In response to a question about whether the incident was an attack on US sovereignty, Miller did not provide a direct answer. “I’m not going to speak beyond what — the information that’s contained in an indictment for what I think are fairly obvious reasons,” he said.

This indicates Washington’s cautious approach to disclosing details related to the alleged plot. The emphasis on opposing transnational oppression, ongoing law enforcement proceedings, diplomatic communication with India, and the expectation of a thorough investigation demonstrate the gravity with which the US government views the situation.

Published in Dawn, December 7th, 2023

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