PAUSE ON INDIA CANADA NEGOTIATIONS
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- India and Canada have “paused” their negotiations on a Bilateral Free Trade Agreement.
- This is days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed concern over “anti-India activities of extremist elements” in Canada.
- India has shown strong resentment against certain political developments in Canada.
- So, for the time being, until these political issues are settled, India has paused the talks.
- Political relations between the two countries have faced challenges in recent months.
- Tensions between the two countries have escalated due to the activities of pro-Khalistan groups in Canada.
- Also, recently there have been activities of some extremists of Indian origin in Canada who have targeted Indian consulates and made allegations against Indian diplomats.
- Canada, in turn, has accused India of interference in its internal affairs.
- Prime Minister Narendra Modi raised this issue during his meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on the sidelines of the G-20 summit.
- Trudeau, in a post-meeting press conference, emphasized Canada's commitment to defending freedom of expression and peaceful protest while also opposing violence and hatred.
READ A TO Z ABOUT KHALISTAN MOVEMENT: https://www.iasgyan.in/daily-current-affairs/khalistan
Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement
- Talks for a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement between India and Canada began in 2010 but made limited progress.
- They were relaunched in March 2022, with nine rounds of talks held so far.
- India was negotiating an interim Indo-Canada Early Progress Trade Agreement (EPTA), which would have finally culminated into a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) or a wide-ranging FTA.
- India's key objectives include greater access to its traditional products and more liberal visa norms for its professionals, while Canada seeks increased market access for its agriculture products and the automobile sector in India.
- Additionally, discussions on an investment agreement called the Foreign Investment Promotion Agreement were underway.
- Anti-India elements in Canada are promoting secessionism and inciting violence against Indian diplomats, damaging diplomatic premises, and threatening the Indian community in Canada and their places of worship.
- The nexus of such forces with organized crime, drug syndicates, and human trafficking should be a concern for Canada as well.
READ A TO Z ABOUT KHALISTAN MOVEMENT: https://www.iasgyan.in/daily-current-affairs/khalistan
India and Canada maintain substantial trade relations. In 2022, India ranked as Canada's 10th largest trading partner.
Since 2018, India has also been the largest source of international students in Canada.
India's total exports to Canada amounted to USD 4.10 billion in 2022-23, up from USD 3.76 billion in 2021-22. Conversely, India's imports from Canada totalled USD 4.05 billion in 2022-23, up from USD 3.13 billion in 2021-22.
- As India has emphasized multiple times, trade talks and extremism do not go together.
- It is essential for the Government to effectively convey to the host countries that they cannot simultaneously have good relations with India while allowing anti-India separatist movements on their soil.
- A relationship based on mutual respect and trust is essential for the progress of the India-Canada relationship.
- It is essential for the two countries to cooperate in dealing with such threats.
- India will also have to build a constructive and sustained engagement with the Sikh diaspora, dispel the misinformation propagated by the Khalistani separatists and showcase the sense of contentment prevailing in Punjab.
Khalistan Movement: Recent Activities and Indian Response
Khalistani separatist activities in Western countries have been on the rise. On 2 July 2023, the Indian Consulate in San Francisco was set on fire (causing minor damage) by a group of pro-Khalistani separatists. In another incident, ‘Sikhs for Justice’, a separatist organisation, put out posters instigating the radical elements to kill Indian top diplomats in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia. The advertising poster of the rally featured a tagline ‘Kill India’. These posters were in response to the death of Hardeep Singh Nijjar in June 2023 in British Columbia, Canada, with separatists charging Indian agencies as responsible for the killing. In addition to these two incidents, Khalistani supporters in Brampton, Canada carried out a 5-km long parade that displayed a float depicting the assassination of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by Khalistani militants.
Intensification of Khalistani Activities Overseas
Although such incidents have taken place intermittently in the last two decades, the Khalistani activities overseas have intensified in last couple of years. Besides the attacks on state symbols, the separatists’ activities across major Western countries broadly include attacks on temples and consulates, and coordinating referendums for a separate State of Khalistan in multiple countries.
Attacks on Religious Symbols
· In October 2022, Khalistan separatists and Indian supporters, clashed in Mississauga, Ontario, on the eve of Diwali. While one group waved the Indian flag, the other carried the Khalistan flag and shouted anti-India slogans.
·In January 2023, in a series of incidents, three Hindu temples (ISKCON, BAPS Swaminarayan Mandir and Shri Shiva Vishnu Temple) in Australia were defaced and anti-India slogans were sprayed on the walls.
·Similarly, Canada has witnessed several incidents related to the defacement of Hindu temples, often with the slogan ‘Khalistan Zindabad, Hindustan Murdabad’ sprayed on the walls.
Referendum for separate State of Khalistan
·Besides these events, the ‘Sikhs for Justice’ conducted its ‘Referendum 2022’ for separate State of Khalistan in the UK, Canada, the US and Australia, where a sizable Sikh population reside.
·The Indian diaspora has been vehemently opposing the activities of the Khalistanis. During the referendum in late January 2023 in Australia, a scuffle broke out between Khalistanis and pro-India supporters at the voting site, Federation Square, Melbourne.
Attack on Indian High Commission and Consulates
·The Khalistanis have also targeted Indian consulates in a coordinated manner. In February 2023, the separatists in Australia targeted the Honorary Consulate in Brisbane and installed the Khalistani Flag inside the premises. In a similar incident in March, pro-Khalistani protesters stormed the Indian consulate in San Francisco, raised Khalistani slogans and installed two pro-Khalistan Flags inside the consulate premises. On 19 March, a group of Khalistan separatists vandalized the Indian High Commission in London, taking out the Indian flag and tried to replace it with the Khalistan flag.
Activities inside India
·The Khalistani separatists have been trying hard to reignite the Khalistani separatist movement in India as well.
·Two major incidents which saw active involvement of Khalistan elements were the farmers’ agitation in 2020 and the emergence of Amritpal Singh as an advocate of a separate state of Khalistan.
·As intelligence reports have suggested, the farmer’s protest did witness the involvement of declared terrorist organisations operating from abroad. The incident of 26 January 2021, when protesting farmers entered the vicinity of the Red Fort and hoisted Nishan Sahib Flag, gives more credence to such reports.
·The US-based banned pro-khalistani group, Sikh for Justice, announced the reward of USD 350,000 (INR 25 million) for unfurling ‘Khalistani Flag’ at the Indian parliament.
West’s reluctance and refusal to act
·That multiple Khalistan separatist organisations and individuals could spearhead such an anti-India campaign as discussed above, indicates the unwillingness of the Western countries, especially Canada, to act against these separatist elements.
·Lately, the inaction of Western countries and their unwillingness to rein in the Khalistani separatists in their respective countries have been straining their relations with India, especially for countries like Canada.
Khalistan factor in Canadian politics
·Canada is home to the second-largest Sikh population in the world, after India. In terms of their population, they form more than 2 percent of the total population of Canada, with nearly 8,00,000 people. They are also the fastest-growing and fourth-largest religious community in Canada.
·Over the years, Canada has seen several phases of Sikh migration. They have now developed into a robust and economically flourishing community.
·Earlier in the 1980s, Canada had provided sanctuary to several dreaded terrorists, including Jagjit Singh Chauhan and Talwinder Singh Parmar, among others.
·Presently, several ‘designated terrorists’ like Arshdeep Singh Gill alias Arsh Dalla of Khalistan Tiger Force (KTF) are residing in Canada.
·While Canada’s actions during the 1980s were guided by Cold War dynamics, its present actions are influenced purely by vote bank politics.
·In the 2019 Canadian federal election, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party got 157 votes, 13 short of a majority. Hence, they had to form a coalition government with the ‘New Democratic Party’ led by Jagmeet Singh Dhaliwal, a pro-Khalistan leader. The Trudeau-led government is under political compulsion to not antagonize their coalition partners.
Khalistani Activities in Other Countries
·The Khalistan activities are not only limited to Canada. The influence of terrorist organisations like Sikh for Justice extends to the section of Sikhs residing predominantly in the UK, the US and Australia.
·Khalistan separatists’ foothold has been prominent in the UK. The Sikh community got established in the UK almost immediately after India’s independence. It was in the UK that the first overseas Sikh organisation, ‘Sikh Home Rule Movement’, was formed under the leadership of Sardar Charan Singh Panchi. The movement was organised to take up the grievances of the Sikh community with the authorities in the UK. Later on, the Sikh Home Rule Movement was taken over by separatist leader and self-proclaimed President of Khalistan, Jagjit Singh Chauhan, who moved to the UK in 1970.
·The UK government appears to react slowly to the activities of the Sikh separatists as was evident from the March 2023 incident in which the Khalistan separatists stormed the Indian High Commission in London and removed Indian National Flag. The Sikh separatists continued to protest with impunity days after this incident.
·Khalistan activities have also intensified in the US, home to some of the designated terrorist organizations and individuals in India. During the 1980s, Khalistan activities thrived under successive US Administrations. As per reports, in 1971, The New York Times carried an advertisement of the declaration of a separate state of Khalistan by Jagjit Singh Chauhan. This advertisement was reportedly funded by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). The driving force behind US behaviour was the Cold War dynamics and the US-Pakistan strategic alliance against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan.
·Recently, the Indian Consulate in San Francisco witnessed two incidents of arson by the Khalistani separatists. The so-called Khalistani flag was also installed inside the Consulate premises. In recent years, Australia has also witnessed several anti-India activities by Khalistani separatists as discussed in previous sections.
All the above incidents reveal that the Khalistan sympathizers and anti-India elements operate from these Western countries with impunity.
Indian Government’s Response
·The Indian Government is consistently taking up the matter with respective governments, highlighting concerns about the adverse impact their inaction will have on bilateral relationships.
·India strongly urged Canadian Government to take appropriate action against the anti-India ‘Khalistan Freedom Rally’, which was to be conducted on 8 July 2023.
·At the 5th India-UK Home Affairs Dialogue, the Indian Government reiterated their concern regarding the Khalistan issue and the misuse of UK’s asylum status by the pro-Khalistani elements to aid and abet terrorist activities in India. The security breach at the Indian High Commission in London was also discussed.
·In response to the inaction of the UK Government against Khalistani separatists in the London incident, New Delhi removed the outer security cover of the British High Commission and High Commissioner’s residence. India was compelled to take such an action to strongly communicate to the British Government the need to take the security of the Indian High Commission in London seriously.
·The Government of India has vigorously communicated its concerns regarding Khalistani activities to the highest political authority in these countries.
·India’s constructive engagement with the Western governments did bear some positive results. However, more needs to be done. The Khalistanis are intensifying their activities abroad, and given that the host countries seem to be looking the other way, India needs to redouble its effort to prevent the reoccurrence of such incidents.
·It is essential for the Government to effectively convey to the host countries that they cannot simultaneously have good relations with India while allowing anti-India separatist movements on their soil.
·At the same time, India will also have to build a constructive and sustained engagement with the Sikh diaspora, dispel the misinformation propagated by the Khalistani separatists and showcase the sense of contentment prevailing in Punjab.
Q. Khalistan sympathizers and anti-India elements operate from Western countries with impunity. Do you agree?