Washington is taking allegations of New Delhi’s involvement in the attempted murder of a US citizen “seriously”
Allegations that an Indian government official was behind a foiled plot to assassinate a Sikh separatist leader on US soil are being taken “seriously,” White House national security spokesman John Kirby said on Thursday. He emphasized, however, that India and the US remain strategic partners and they will continue to strengthen ties.
“These allegations in this investigation, [we] take it very seriously. And we’re glad to see that the Indians are announcing their own efforts to investigate this,” Kirby said at a news conference.
He was commenting on the US Justice Department’s indictment of an Indian national in connection with an alleged plot to kill Sikh separatist Gurpatwant Singh Pannun. “And we’ve been clear that we want to see anybody that’s responsible for these alleged crimes to be held properly accountable,” he added.
However, he was quick to note that Washington considers New Delhi “a strategic partner” and will “continue to work to improve and strengthen that strategic partnership with India.”
The remarks come amid a diplomatic row between India and Canada after Ottawa accused New Delhi of links to the assassination of another prominent Khaliustan activist, Hardeep Singh Nijjar, on Canadian soil in June.
Canada is a close US ally and partner in the ‘Five Eyes’ intelligence-sharing alliance, which has been instrumental in gathering evidence to support Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s allegation, although no evidence has been made public.
Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken revealed that several US officials have raised the issue directly with their New Delhi counterparts in recent weeks. “The government announced today that it was conducting an investigation, and that’s good and appropriate, and we look forward to seeing the results,” he said while on a visit to Tel Aviv, as quoted by news agency ANI.
US prosecutors have charged an Indian national named Nikhil Gupta for working with an Indian intelligence officer in the foiled plot to kill Pannun. Last week, the Financial Times reported that US authorities had issued a warning to the Indian government over concerns it was involved in the plot.
In the wake of the development, CIA Director William J. Burns and Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines were sent to India in August and October respectively to demand an investigation, the Washington Post reported on Wednesday.
Reacting to the allegations, India’s Foreign Ministry on Thursday said it was “contrary to Indian government policy” and a “matter of concern.” “We take such inputs very seriously and a high-level inquiry committee has been constituted to look into all the relevant aspects of the matter,” a spokesperson for the ministry noted, adding that necessary follow-up action would be taken based on the findings of the committee.
Pannun, the alleged target of the plot, is the leader of Sikhs for Justice (SFJ), one of the largest advocacy groups for a separate homeland for the Sikhs called ‘Khalistan’, which would be carved out of northeastern India’s Punjab state. Earlier this month, he faced charges of terrorism and conspiracy for posting a video on social media in which he was interpreted as making threats against passengers flying with India’s national carrier, Air India.
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