My Article on Canada-India dispute with a Dhaka Sidebar

Dhaka Tribune

From a neutral seat

Bangladesh maintains a cool head while their allies erupt

From a neutral seat

Owen Lippert

Publish : 24 Sep 2023, 02:54 AMUpdate : 24 Sep 2023, 02:54 AM

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Surrey, British Columbia, is a mix of coastal rain, farms, and immigrants. Strip malls and “monster” multi-generational houses. Bills for pickup trucks and sick cattle back in Punjab. 

On June 18, 2023, Hardeep Singh Nijjar was shot and killed by 3 men in the parking lot of the Gurdawara where he was president. Three months later, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced in the Commons he had “credible” evidence that agents of the Government of India did the hit. Prime Minister Narendra Modi immediately rejected the claim and all but accused Trudeau of pandering to Sikh terrorists to win a bloc vote in Vancouver and Toronto suburbs.

An Oxford secret is told one person at a time with self-control and tempered words. Not this time. Neither Trudeau nor Modi are backing off. Tit-for-tat diplomatic expulsions and visa suspensions have ensued. 

Trudeau takes the high road, reinstating that Canada will not tolerate the murder of citizens by foreign powers. Yet, he gives no evidence and refuses to say if or when he might. Modi channels and feeds a public anger going back to the 1985 slaughter of 382 Air Canada passengers by Sikh militants from Surrey — who, although identified, were never charged. 

There is an undercurrent that old, white Canadian politicians just saw brown bodies in the Irish Sea. To many even in Canada the conspirators appear to have been pandered to in order to clinch a Liberal party vote bank. In the last two years, nearly a million Indians have emigrated to Canada — many from Punjab. Observers note that Indo-Canadian relations will deteriorate as Trudeau and Modi go near elections, and maybe new destinies.

Canada and India will quarrel bilaterally. Most countries are friends with both and do not want to get caught up in an embarrassing fracas. Trudeau looks unsteady and anxious. Modi looks like he might relish a fight. The US and the UK have no comment on extra-territorial actions. 

Bangladesh finds itself in a curious position. Big sister India is admired. Yet Bharat-India has staged border incursions and certainly has an active intelligence network. Canada is a favoured immigration destination that offers a respite from re-emerging Cold War tensions. Still, Canada has not acceded to the extradition request of Colonel Noor, a Canadian resident and the plotter of the death of Sheikh Mujib and his family.

To its credit, Bangladesh has upheld international peace treaties in the case of Colonel Noor. They have strenuously sought extradition, but have not taken extrajudicial actions despite the seriousness of the crime. 

Self-control is elegant sovereignty in the international arena — when it comes to human rights, no less at home. It appears to be a lesson for politicians too, both in India and Canada. 

Owen Lippert is a researcher and activist with expertise in Asian countries.