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'Innocent until proven guilty': Former Indian envoy urges Canada to de-escalate tensions with New Delhi

Swarup called Trudeau "reckless" and said that the matter could have been resolved diplomatically through continuous engagement between both governments.

Aveek Banerjee Edited By: Aveek Banerjee Ottawa (Canada) Published on: September 23, 2023 18:16 IST
Former Indian Ambassador to Canada Vikas Swarup at the
Image Source : VIKAS SWARUP/X Former Indian Ambassador to Canada Vikas Swarup at the Global Business Forum at the Fairmont Banff Springs Conference Centre

Amid deepening tensions between India and Canada over the killing of Khalistani terrorist Hardeep Singh Nijjar, former Indian diplomat Vikas Swarup has criticised Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for being "reckless" and urged Ottawa to de-escalate the ongoing dispute by revealing the truth.

Swarup, who served as India's high commissioner to Canada from 2017 to 2019, reminded the Trudeau government that "everyone is innocent until proven guilty" and further said that Canada will regret accomodating violent Khalistani terrorists on its soil.

"I have no idea why the Canadian government did what they did... I reject the allegations that have been made. Let the truth come out in a public environment," Swarup said at the Global Business Forum at the Fairmont Banff Springs Conference Centre, reported a Canadian daily.

He said further that Canada should take a step back and reflect carefully on Trudeau's allegations linking India's role in Nijjar's killing, adding that the matter could have been solved at the diplomatic level through continuous engagement between the two governments.

Swarup also said that he has been involved in the Indian government's efforts to advise Canada about the threat of Khalistani terrorists for a long time. "e had been giving dossier after dossier to Canada about the increasing activity about the pro-Khalistanians," he said.

According to the ex-Indian envoy, Canada has the responsibility to take action when Khalistani protests crosses over to terrorism. He also urged India to reverse its move to suspend visa services in Canada and try not to harm businesses amid ongoing tensions.

"Canada cannot blow up its relationships with both India and China at the same time," he said while calling out Ottawa for damaging crucial trading relationships with both Asian countries. 

Where are things between India and Canada?

India-Canada relations nosedived to the lowest point after Trudeau's allegations in Canadian Parliament of "potential" involvement of Indian agents in the killing of Nijjar, who was gunned down in British Columbia's Surrey on June 18.

India angrily rejected the Canadian PM's allegations as "absurd" and "motivated" and expelled a senior Canadian diplomat in a tit-for-tat move to a similar move by Ottawa. India also temporarily suspended visa services for Canadian nationals in view of "security threats" and called for a reduction of Canadian diplomats in New Delhi. 

India also advised all its nationals in Canada and those contemplating travelling there to exercise "utmost caution" in view of growing anti-India activities and "politically-condoned" hate crimes. The diplomatic standoff between both countries has laid uncertainties over trade relations, as India and Canada recorded a burgeoning bilateral trade for the past few years.

Analysts are expressing cautious optimism that long-standing business relationships between India and Canada will overcome the current feud over Nijjar's killing. Trudeau has faced intense backlash for his remarks, including from Canadian opposition leaders.

Nijjar's terrorist activities

Sources told news agency PTI that Nijjar was involved in training youths at a terror camp in British Columbia to carry out attacks in India. He also visited Pakistan in 2012 to meet another pro-Khalistan terrorist Jagtar Singh Tara, the then-chief of Babbar Khalsa International.

Nijjar met ara under the guise of a Baisakhi Jatha member and the latter supplied him with weapons and trained him in assembling improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in 2012 and 2013. An Interpol Red Corner Notice was raised by India against Nijjar's activities and details of the cases were shared with the Canadian authorities but no action was taken, sources said.

Nijjar had escaped to Canada in 1996 fearing arrest and indulged in illegal activities like drug smuggling and extortion to gain funding for terrorist activities, according to sources. He allegedly muscled his way for the post of president of a local Gurdwara in British Columbia's Surrey by forcibly deposing his cousin Raghbir Singh Nijjar with threats of violence.

He also planned a terror attack on Dera Sacha Sauda headquarters in Haryana's Sirsa after receiving directions from Tara. The attack was foiled as Nijjar was denied an Indian visa. The deceased terrorist also supported calls to ban officials from the Indian embassy to participate in programmes organised by local gurdwaras in Canada, sources further said.

Nijjar was designated as a 'terrorist' by India in 2020 and was accused of being actively involved in "operationalising, networking, training and financing" members of the KTF group.

(with inputs from PTI)

ALSO READ | Nijjar visited Pakistan in 2012 to receive training, orchestrated terror attacks in India: Sources

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