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India-Canada standoff heats up while US seeks a compromise

India-Canada standoff heats up while US seeks a compromise
India-Canada standoff heats up while US seeks a compromise | Quick Take | GZERO Media

Hi, everybody. Ian Bremmer here. And a Quick Take to kick off your week.

India and Canada. Not the two countries that you expected to be getting into a big public fight. But that is exactly where we are. And the Americans are uncomfortable. And sort of in the middle of it, though I'm about clearly on Canada's side. Give you a little background.

So largest Sikh population in the world outside of India is in Canada. They are politically active and relevant. They're concentrated in a few key voting areas. And while they tend to vote conservative, all three parties interested in being aligned with them. Most of them, of course, perfectly fine from a political perspective. But there also is a small group of radicals who support secession of their homeland from India. Radical organizations, some of which have been supportive of and engaged in terrorist activity in India. The Indian government has been public and very critical that the Canadians are allowing big Sikh demonstrations. Canadians say, “Hey, we have, you know, sort of freedom of speech. What do you want us to do, close down these demonstrations?” Indians, “Yes, we would actually appreciate that.” And also that they've been harboring radicals and terrorists and they need to take action against them. Then the Canadian government found out that one of the leaders of a radical Sikh institution, who is a Canadian citizen who was assassinated in Canada, found out from the Americans that the Indian government was behind the assassination. And indeed, there were recordings of Indian agents talking about this apparently before and after.

And that was shared with all the five eyes. So the UK and Australia and New Zealand, I'm not privy to this intelligence. I don't have those clearances. But leaders that I've spoken to in those countries tell me that this evidence is rock solid. So look, Trudeau very concerned about this. I mean, imagine if Khashoggi was an American citizen and gunned down in New York, right? I mean, this is clearly a big deal domestically for Trudeau wants to find a way to find an off-ramp. So back in August, he sent his national security and intelligence advisor to Delhi. She's the equivalent of Jake Sullivan in the United States. The meetings go absolutely nowhere. Indian government takes no responsibility, refuses to talk about it. Then when Trudeau himself goes to Delhi for the G-20, I had heard that the meeting between Trudeau and Modi was shockingly bad. I heard that read out from a number of people. I was very surprised because the topics they were discussing weren't so chippy. And that's because Trudeau was actually bringing this up. And Modi said, “Absolutely not. We have nothing to do with it and how dare you bring this up? And you're, by the way, harboring all these extremists and we're really angry at you.”

At that point, Trudeau decides to go public because this information is going to end up public in the criminal case around the murder and, you know, now you've got a problem. So the Indian government is, you know, taking no prisoners on this issue. They're condemning the Canadians. They have, you know, gotten rid of a Canadian envoy. They've suspended visas from Canada to India. And clearly, the trade relationship, which isn't huge, it's actually pretty small, but nonetheless would be at risk. And so too, Canada's Indo-Pacific strategy, which they announced a great fanfare a year ago, spent a lot of time writing it up. It's pretty thoughtful because their China relationship is easily as bad as America's China relationship. Frankly, it's worse and the Canadians don't have as much leverage and well you can scratch the Indo from the Pacific strategy right now. Meanwhile, Modi is enormously popular for telling off the Canadians.

First of all, it is not making all that much news. It's mostly below the fold in Indian newspapers in Canada, of course, has been leading all the coverage. In India itself, yes, big Sikh population. But those Sikhs are primarily affiliated with a political party that is in alliance with Modi's own BJP. And they strongly oppose these secessionist movements and the radicals and the terrorists that have been involved in it. In fact, you know, informally you hear people when they find out that the Indians might have actually done this such an assassination, they're kind of proud. They're like, wow, we're like Israel. Who knew that, you know, we defend our national security so well? And the Congress party, which is the main opposition party to Modi strongly supporting Modi on this issue. So it's a serious impasse. It is one that is not going to get resolved any time soon.

The Americans are trying to work a compromise because what the Canadian government wants is, you know, not for Modi to say, “I'm personally responsible and I'm really sorry,” wants to do an investigation, find out who was responsible for it,have a head or two roll, even if they're junior and then put this behind them. Modi has absolutely zero interest in doing that, especially with the Canadians. And it's unclear how public the Americans are going to get on this issue precisely because the India relationship has been a big win for the United States. And indeed, Biden was planning on going to India for their national day coming up in a couple of months as the principal guest. This could put a spanner in that. So watch it all very carefully. But that's where we are in India-Canada. A lot to pay attention to and not easy to resolve.

Hope everyone’s doing well. I'll talk to you all real soon.


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