India, at UN, is mum about dispute with Canada over Sikh separatist leader’s killing


UNITED NATIONS (AP) — India’s top diplomat steered clear of his country’s row with Canada over the killing of a Sikh separatist leader but made an oblique swipe at how other countries respond to “terrorism” as he addressed world leaders at the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday.

Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar mainly used his speech to champion India’s growing global stature and leadership ambitions, highlight its recent turn chairing the Group of 20 industrialized nations and steering a meaty summit meeting earlier this month.

But he also said that the world must not “countenance that political convenience determines responses to terrorism, extremism and violence.”

India has often lashed out at Pakistan over what New Delhi sees as sponsoring terrorism, accusing its neighbor of arming and training insurgents fighting for the independence of Indian-controlled Kashmir or for its integration into Pakistan — a charge that Islamabad denies. But this time, the comment could also be seen as a swipe at Canada, whose representative is scheduled to speak later Tuesday at the U.N.

Ties between the two countries have plunged to their lowest point in years after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said last week that India may have been involved in the June killing of a Canadian citizen in a Vancouver suburb.

Canada has yet to provide any public evidence of Indian involvement in the slaying of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, 45, who was killed by masked gunmen. He was a leader in what remains of a once-strong movement to create an independent Sikh homeland, known as Khalistan, and India had designated him a terrorist.

India’s foreign ministry dismissed the allegation as “absurd” and accused Canada of harboring “terrorists and extremists.” It also said the claims were motivated, implying that Trudeau was trying to drum up domestic support among the Sikh diaspora.

“Such unsubstantiated allegations seek to shift the focus from Khalistani terrorists and extremists, who have been provided shelter in Canada and continue to threaten India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” the ministry said in a statement last week.

But India has accused Canada for years of giving free rein to Sikh separatists, including Nijjar.

While the active insurgency ended decades ago, the Modi government has warned that Sikh separatists were trying to stage a comeback. New Delhi has pressed countries like Canada, where Sikhs make up more than 2% of the population, to do more to stop a separatist resurgence.

It’s not unusual for India to make veiled references to other countries — in fact, it has a habit at the U.N. of not directly targeting criticism at such rivals like Pakistan and China.

Observers were watching to see whether Jaishankar would take direct aim at Canada, but doing so on a global platform could have widened a rift that already has dominated headlines internationally. Experts have said India wouldn’t like to draw more attention to the dispute with Canada at a forum such as the U.N., preferring instead to treat it as an issue just between the two countries involved.

Canada’s allegation clouded India’s moment in the diplomatic sun after the G20 summit. Jaishankar sought to turn the spotlight back on his country’s aspirations on the world stage. The world’s most populous nation and an increasingly muscular economic power, India has held itself out as “the voice of the Global South” and of developing countries’ frustrations with a lopsided international order.

“When we aspire to be a leading power, this is not for self-aggrandizement, but to take on greater responsibility and make more contributions,” he said. “The goals we have set for ourselves will make us different from all those whose rise preceded ours.”


Pathi reported from New Delhi.

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