By Gywnne Dyer
First Prize: Two Fabulous Days in Beautiful Delhi! Second Prize: Four Days in Delhi!
The bizarre thing about Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s extra two days waiting in Delhi after the G20 for a plane to bring him home was that the Indian media were writing about it. Local TV channels and news websites were full of reports about the “snubbed” Canadian prime minister’s “disastrous” trip.
The Indian media don’t usually pay much attention to the comings and goings of Canadian prime ministers. They had obviously been tipped off by the government that Canada was now an enemy whose misfortunes were to be celebrated. A week later it became clear why.
On Tuesday Justin Trudeau told parliament that India was suspected of involvement in the murder of a Canadian Sikh activist three months ago in Vancouver. Hardeep Singh Nijjar grew up in the Sikh-
majority state of Punjab in northwest India during the heyday of the violent ‘Khalistan’ separatist movement.
He fled to Canada in 1997 and became a citizen in 2015, but he remained active in Sikh nationalist politics and India undoubtedly saw him as an enemy. The Canadian Security Intelligence Service reportedly warned him that he was “under threat from professional assassins,” and that proved to be true.
The hit was done by two masked men, probably local contract killers, near a gurdwara (temple) in suburban Vancouver on 18 June. Who paid them? After due consideration. Canada’s security forces concluded that it was the senior intelligence officer at the Indian High Commission in Ottawa.
He has been duly expelled from Canada. The Indian government, predictably, called the accusation “absurd” and expelled a Canadian diplomat tit-for-tat. Normally, there would then be a period of silent sulking before normal relations were resumed.
But this is more than a little local spat. Why? Because of the Quad. Three other major powers with interests in Asia – the United States, Japan and Australia – are currently engaged in a complicated courtship of India. The mating dance is called the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (‘Quad’ for short’), and the suitors hope that it will end up as a military alliance that will ‘contain’ China.
India is interested, because it sees China as its major rival, but now Canada, with close ties to all three of India’s suitors, is in a confrontation with India. Canada’s friends and allies have all murmured their strong support, but you can tell that they really wish the whole thing would just go away.
India will never apologise or even admit wrongdoing, because great states, like four-year-olds, simply don’t do that sort of thing. However, if Canada could see its way clear to letting the issue just fade away….
Trudeau can’t do that, because he has his own domestic politics to worry about. Once the security agencies pointed their fingers at India, he had to act or the opposition would have crucified him. (That kind of information always gets out.) He has to go on ‘defending Canadian sovereignty’ too, for the same reason.
Good, because even though Canada is not directly involved in the ‘Quad’ project, a Canadian-Indian confrontation may delay or even sabotage the whole idea. It is a thoroughly terrible idea, because the last thing Asia and the world needs is a huge new military alliance ‘containing’ China. The Chinese are paranoid enough as it is, and the ‘end of growth’ in China is going to make that a lot worse. Don’t stoke the flames.