US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is meeting with his Indian counterpart in Washington, DC, as the United States has urged India to cooperate with Canada’s investigation into the killing of a prominent Sikh Canadian leader.
At the start of talks with Blinken on Thursday afternoon, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar said it was “good to be back” in the US capital and thanked Washington for its support at the recent G20 summit in New Delhi.
Jaishankar also met US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan earlier in the day, writing on social media that the pair “recognized the tremendous progress in our bilateral relationship this year and discussed taking it forward”.
But Jaishankar’s trip comes as India faces growing international scrutiny after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said last week that Ottawa was investigating “credible allegations of a potential link” between India and the killing of Sikh leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar.
On Thursday, Department of State spokesman Matthew Miller declined to preview the meeting between Blinken and Jaishankar, but said Washington has urged New Delhi to cooperate with the probe. Miller added that those efforts will continue.
However, Trudeau told reporters on Thursday afternoon that he had received assurances from US officials that Blinken will raise the Canadian investigation with Jaishankar.
“The Americans have been with us in speaking to the Indian government about how important it is that they be involved in following up on the credible allegations that agents of the Indian government killed a Canadian citizen on Canadian soil,” the prime minister said.
Began my Washington DC visit with a meeting with NSA @JakeSullivan46.
Recognized the tremendous progress in our bilateral relationship this year and discussed taking it forward.
— Dr. S. Jaishankar (@DrSJaishankar) September 28, 2023
Nijjar, who was fatally shot outside a Sikh temple in the province of British Columbia in June, was a vocal supporter of a Sikh separatist movement in India and had been previously labelled a “terrorist” by New Delhi.
Blinken has previously said the administration of US President Joe Biden is “deeply concerned” by Canada’s allegations, and that Washington is coordinating with Ottawa on the issue.
Last week, the US secretary of state also said it was “critical that the Canadian investigation proceed, and it would be important that India work with the Canadians”.
India has roundly rejected the accusations it was involved in Nijjar’s killing as “absurd” and politically motivated.
New Delhi also has accused Ottawa of harbouring Sikh “terrorists and extremists”. Indian officials have long framed the decades-long Sikh separatist movement, known as the Khalistan movement, as a pressing threat to national security.
Most recently, Jaishankar, when asked about the allegations at a Council on Foreign Relations event in New York on Tuesday, said India had told Canada it would look into any “specific” details it provides on the killing of Nijjar.
Miller at the US State Department also told reporters on Wednesday that Blinken did not raise the issue with Jaishankar during a meeting of the Quad grouping – which includes the US, India, Australia and Japan – in New York last week.
‘Growing economic power’
Canada’s allegations have left the US in an uncomfortable position as it seeks to court India amid a wider effort to counter China’s growing influence in the Asia-Pacific region.
Biden welcomed Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the White House for an official state visit in June, despite condemnation from rights observers over the Indian government’s treatment of minorities and the erosion of democratic norms in the country.
On Thursday, Trudeau also referenced India’s rising global influence and said the US and other Western allies should continue to engage with New Delhi.
“India is a growing economic power and important geopolitical player, and as we’ve presented with our Indo-Pacific strategy just last year, we’re very serious about building closer ties with India,” he said.
“At the same time, obviously, as a rule of law country, we need to emphasise that India needs to work with Canada to ensure that we get the full facts of this matter,” added Trudeau, referring to Nijjar’s killing.
Further complicating the US-India relationship have been reports that Washington worked closely with Ottawa on the intelligence that informed Trudeau’s allegations of a possible link between the killing and Indian government agents.
The Financial Times also reported that Biden had raised concerns about the matter during a meeting with Modi at the G20 Summit in New Delhi in early September.
Meanwhile, Sikh American community leader Pritpal Singh, in a letter to US legislators on the American Sikh Congressional Caucus last week, highlighted what he called “growing evidence of India’s transnational repression against Sikh Americans”.
Singh also recently told The Intercept news website that he had been personally notified by the FBI of a credible threat on his life.
In his letter, he called on US legislators to launch an investigation into threats received by Sikh activists and to express deep concern to the Indian government.
US Representative Eric Swalwell, a member of the American Sikh Congressional Caucus, said on Monday that he was “concerned by reports that India’s government is targeting Sikh activists abroad”.
“I will work with local & federal government officials to ensure necessary actions are undertaken to protect the Sikh community,” Swalwell wrote on social media.
As a member of the American Sikh Congressional Caucus, I stand with the Sikh community against hate & political violence. Sikhs deserve to live in peace in America & worldwide, free from political persecution. I’m concerned by reports that India’s government is targeting Sikh… https://t.co/mCt4vLVX37
— Rep. Eric Swalwell (@RepSwalwell) September 25, 2023