HomeIndiaBiden's efforts to court India questioned by murder allegation

Biden’s efforts to court India questioned by murder allegation

During the Group of 20 summit in New Delhi This month, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi draped a shawl around President Biden’s shoulders before the two walked amicably side by side at a Mohandas K. Gandhi memorial site. Biden appeared frequently with Modi during the summit, which was seen as something of a revelation moment for India, and the two men often exchanged warm gestures.

Those moments of bonhomie, following a rare state dinner for Modi hosted by Biden in June, reflect the president’s long-standing effort to court Modi, a key strategic partner in countering China’s influence in the Indo-Pacific. That effort is now complicated by Canada’s explosive allegation that Indian officials may have been behind the murder of a Sikh separatist leader in British Columbia.

The White House’s approach since the allegations became public on Monday has been to walk a tightrope: offering support for Canada’s investigation and urging India to cooperate, while avoiding any repudiation of India or Modi. Despite Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s statement to the Canadian House of Commons on Monday that authorities are investigating “credible allegations” of links connecting India of the murder, the investigation is ongoing.

The White House has not issued a joint statement with Canada because this was a Canadian investigation, according to a senior administration official, who requested anonymity to discuss a sensitive issue. The official said it would be unusual for the United States to support another country when announcing the results of a domestic police investigation, adding that the United States would not expect another country to do the same.

The White House has no concerns about Canada’s investigation and did not question how Trudeau decided to announce the results, the official said.

The White House is waiting for the formal investigation to conclude before intervening, but rejected criticism that the United States is trying to avoid antagonizing India because of its important strategic role. The senior official noted that the White House has expressed “deep concern” about the allegations and called for those responsible to be held accountable.

The move has led to a rapid deterioration in relations between Canada and India, including the expulsion of an Indian diplomat in Ottawa. New Delhi responded by expelling a Canadian diplomat.

‘Brand India’ and Modi take center stage at G-20 summit

Hardeep Singh Nijjar, who had advocated the creation of a separate Sikh state in India’s Punjab region, was shot dead in his vehicle in June by two masked gunmen outside the Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara temple in Surrey, British Columbia. . Nijar, who was born in India but settled in Canada, was president of the temple. Trudeau did not provide details when making the allegations.

That growing dispute puts Biden in a complicated position as he seeks to maintain strong relations with one of the United States’ closest allies, Canada, and an important strategic partner, India. Human rights activists have previously challenged Washington’s growing closeness to India, citing Modi’s crackdown on dissent and his persecution of religious minorities.

More broadly, Biden’s embrace of India highlights a broader tension in Biden’s foreign policy, as he talks about shoring up the world’s democracies and confronting its autocracies, but has also allied himself with non-governmental regimes. Democrats hoping to build a global coalition to confront China’s influence.

In that context, Trudeau’s accusations have put the White House in a particularly difficult situation. “The Biden administration has made extraordinary efforts to redouble the emerging strategic convergence between the United States and India, while minimizing any potential divergence in shared values,” said Milan Vaishnav, senior fellow and director of the South Asia Program at the Carnegie Endowment. for international peace.

“Now, Washington will have to walk a fine line between excluding a valuable bulwark against Chinese expansionism and accepting the concerns of an important NATO ally,” Vaishnav added.

A White House statement Tuesday reflected that balancing act.

“We are deeply concerned by the allegations referred to by Prime Minister Trudeau. We remain in regular contact with our Canadian partners. “It is critical that Canada’s investigation continues and that the perpetrators are brought to justice,” National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said in a statement. “We urge the Indian government to cooperate with the Canadian investigation and ensure that those responsible are held accountable.”

In the weeks before the G-20 summit, senior officials from the United States and other countries privately raised the issue of Nijjar’s murder with Indian officials, according to a Western official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive matter.

Other attacks on allied soil in recent years have been followed by coordinated efforts to respond, sometimes by expelling diplomats and intelligence officers. After British rule accused the Kremlin Following a 2018 nerve agent attack on British soil, the United States, Canada and many European countries expelled Russian diplomats in solidarity.

Any Canadian attempt to mount a similar effort would be complicated by the fact that, unlike Russia, India does not have adversarial relations with Canada’s allies, many of whom have motives to curry favor with the Modi government. India is among the most populous countries in the world, occupies a strategic location in the Asian subcontinent and is home to a growing technology sector.

United States and India recently established a high-level initiative on defense and emerging technologies that, among other things, will promote joint production of defense equipment, including military jet engines, long-range artillery and armored infantry vehicles.

Biden has made big overtures to court India in recent months. He invited Modi to a state dinner (only the third of his presidency) and has avoided publicly criticizing India’s slide toward illiberalism and Modi’s persecution of religious minorities.

“The Biden administration is likely to downplay or perhaps ignore the issue, to avoid having to choose between NATO ally Canada and emerging security partner India, to ensure the latter’s continued assistance in countering China,” said Derek Grossman, senior defense analyst at the Rand Corp. and former U.S. intelligence officer.

“Much will depend on how the publicly disclosed facts of Canada’s investigation are revealed, but if true, these allegations pose the most serious threat to India’s international reputation perhaps in its history,” Grossman said.

As Washington and Delhi strengthen their security cooperation to counter China, the Biden administration has been willing to overlook its differences with India over Russia’s war in Ukraine, another top priority for the White House. “They have given up trying to change India’s position on Russia to sustain cooperation with China,” said Lisa Curtis, director of Indo-Pacific Security at the Center for a New American Security.

American diplomats said their Canadian counterparts informed them of the allegations before Trudeau made them public and that they hoped to have more clarity soon.

“We have been in close contact with our Canadian colleagues about this,” a senior State Department official said Tuesday, briefing reporters under basic rules of anonymity. “We are quite concerned about the accusations. “We believe it is important that there be a full and open investigation, and we urge the Indian government to cooperate with that investigation.”

Biden has often promised to put human rights at the center of his foreign policy and has spoken eloquently about the existential challenge between democracy and autocracy around the world. In some ways, she has posed this approach as a contrast to his predecessor, donald trumpwho seemed willing to forge ties with autocrats while upsetting longstanding U.S. alliances with European democracies.

White House officials say Biden prefers to raise his human rights concerns with other leaders privately, which they say he did when Modi was in Washington for the state visit in June.

At the same time, the Biden administration has prioritized building relationships to confront China and has said, despite Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, that China remains the most serious long-term challenge to the order. world.

Biden I recently visited Vietnam, for example, to strengthen relations with Hanoi despite the Communist Party of Vietnam’s treatment of its citizens. Human rights groups estimate that the Vietnamese government is holding about 200 political prisoners.

Biden has faced similar challenges before. During the election campaign, Biden promised to make Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman a “pariah” after the CIA concluded he had ordered the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. Shortly after taking office, Biden declassified a US intelligence report that found bin Salman responsible, but stopped short of directly penalizing the Saudi royals.

Biden has since worked to restore a relationship with Saudi Arabia, which is crucial to American interests. Biden visited bin Salman in Jeddah and greeted him with a fist bump.

And at one point during the G-20, Modi reached out as Biden shook bin Salman’s hand and placed his hands on theirs as the trio smiled.

The Biden administration will not impose any direct punishment on bin Salman for the 2018 murder of Khashoggi, despite the conclusion of a long-awaited intelligence report released on Friday that it “approved” the operation, officials said.

Matt Viser and Michael Birnbaum contributed to this report.

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