By: MC Birla Meetei
The relations between India and the United States date back to India’s independence movement and have continued well after independence from the United Kingdom in 1947. Though, India and the United States enjoy close relations and have deepened collaboration on issues such as counterterrorism and countering Chinese influence in the Indo-Pacific, there seems to emerge a diplomatic shift between the two countries.
The arrest of Nikhil Gupta, the man accused of conspiring to kill Gurpatwant Singh Pannun in the Czech Republic at the request of the US on June 30, 2023 set the glaring example if there could be any severe diplomatic tussles between India and the US in the very near future. The US federal prosecutors charged Nikhil Gupta with working with an Indian government employee in the foiled plot to assassinate Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, an American and Canadian citizen on November 29, 2023. The 52-year-old Nikhil Gupta was charged with murder-for-hire, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison in jail. The US authorities had said Nikhil Gupta agreed to pay an assassin $100,000 to kill the Sikh separatist leader living in New York City. The prosecutors had said Czech authorities arrested and detained Gupta on June 30, under the bilateral extradition treaty between the US and the Czech Republic.
After the dissolution of the former Soviet Union in 1991, the Indian foreign policy adapted to the unipolar world and India developed closer ties with the United States. In the twenty-first century, Indian foreign policy has sought to leverage India’s strategic autonomy to safeguard sovereign rights and promote national interests within a multi-polar world. Under the administrations of Presidents George W. Bush (2001–09) and Barack Obama (2009–2017), the United States has demonstrated accommodation to India’s core national interests and acknowledged outstanding concerns. Increase in bilateral trade and investment, co-operation on global security matters, inclusion of India in decision-making on matters of global governance. However, an eye can be set on the recent Naga-American Council seeking Nagas’ right to self-determination & independence as reported in the Wire and the Ukhrul Times. On her recent visit to the US capital, Grace Collins, Honorary President of Nagalim and Founder of Naga-American Council met with several dignitaries, activists and the media, in support of the Naga people’s right to independence. Due to the fact the Nagas never joined the Indian Union by conquest or concession, they have been under a forced occupation by the Indian Government since August 14, 1947. These remarks by a US based pro-Naga global community cannot be left silently.
The relationship between the United States and India is one of the most strategic and consequential of the 21st century. The United States supports India’s emergence as a leading global power and a vital partner in promoting a peaceful, stable, and prosperous Indo-Pacific region. The United States and India have established a strong defense industrial cooperation that looks at opportunities for co-development and co-production of important military capabilities for both our countries. India is also one of 12 countries partnering with the United States on the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity to make our economies more connected, resilient, clean, and fair. India is a member of the Indian Ocean Rim Association, at which the United States is a dialogue partner, and which convened in October 2023 in Colombo.
On the other hand, Canada’s “The Globe and Mail” newspaper reported police surveillance of the suspects in the Nijjar murder for two months and apprehension of the suspects in a matter of weeks. According to three anonymous sources quoted by the newspaper, the two suspected killers did not leave Canada following Nijjar’s assassination in British Columbia and have been under police surveillance for months. The ties between India and Canada came under severe strain following Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s allegations in September of a potential involvement of Indian agents in the killing of Khalistani separatist Nijjar outside a gurdwara in Surrey city on June 18. India designated Nijjar as a terrorist in 2020. The country has rejected Trudeau’s allegations as absurd and motivated. The US had already hinted Canada of the Indian hand in the killing of Nijjar while the failed plot to murder Nikhil Gupta was going on the US soil. These two countries, Canada and the US might have been skeptical of the rise of Indian military intelligence covert activities on their soil under India’s new strategic security doctrine called the “The Doval Doctrine” named after the National Security Adviser of India, Mr. Ajit Doval. His policy prescription is marked by three themes: irrelevance of morality, extremism freed from calculation or calibration, and reliance on military might. Long before he became the Prime Minister, Mr Narendra Modi’s National Security Adviser (NSA), Ajit K. Doval had acquired a deserved reputation as a hawk. This former Director of the Intelligence Bureau (IB) was characterised by AS Dulat, the former head of the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), as “the hawkish Ajit Doval”. Ajit Doval, a 1968 batch Indian Police Service officer of the Kerala Cadre, went on to perform exploits with all the gusto of a commando: infiltration into the then underground Mizo National Front to win over its top commanders; walk into the Golden Temple in Amritsar posing as a Pakistani agent months before the Operation Black Thunder in 1988 to obtain intelligence; and a seven-year tour of duty in Pakistan. Doval retired in January 2005.
In developments that are set to increase troubles being faced by the Indian government over accusations of transnational repression and the targeting of US and Canadian citizens on their soil, reports of the charges and alleged links to the Indian government are likely to be made public. The Washington Post has reported, citing video footage and witness accounts, that at least six men and two vehicles were involved in the killing of Nijjar. The recent move by the US may be seen as a Diplomatic Offense concerning the rise of India as a global power and the only regional power to counter China in the South East Asian Region.
Amidst the India-Pakistan tensions, India has to try to ramp up its efforts to get the US on its side. India should develop policies on how to handle relations with Canada and the US before the Doval Doctrine may be reflected in US foreign policy towards India.
(The writer is a Senior Reporter at the Imphal Times. He can be reached at: [email protected])