On 18 September 2023, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau triggered a diplomatic war of words between India and Canada, by alleging that the government of India was involved in the killing of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, the leader of the outlawed Khalistan Tiger Force, who was shot at point-blank range by two masked gunmen outside a Gurdwara in Surrey, British Columbia, Canada.
After becoming a Canadian citizen Nijjar, became a prominent member of the Khalistan movement seeking an independent Sikh homeland.
Nijjar died on the spot with as many as 34 bullets in his body. According to the Washington Post, it was a larger and more organized assassination plot in which the assailants fired about 50 bullets, and 34 hit Nijjar.
“Over the past number of weeks Canadian security agencies have been actively pursuing credible allegations of a potential link between agents of the government of India and the killing of a Canadian citizen, Hardeep Singh Nijjar”, Trudeau said while addressing the Canadian Parliament.
“Any involvement of a foreign government in the killing of a Canadian citizen on Canadian soil is an unacceptable violation of our sovereignty,” Trudeau added.
As expected Trudeau’s shocking accusation led to a diplomatic stand-off with Canada’s foreign minister and national security adviser joining the free-for-all.
Canadian foreign minister Mélanie Joly, announced the expulsion of Pavan Kumar Rai an Indian diplomat, whom she described as the de facto head of R&AW India’s external intelligence agency in the Indian Embassy in Canada, while Jody Thomas, the national security adviser, went on to blame India, Russia and China for interfering in Canadian internal affairs.
Who was Hardeep Singh Nijjar – law-abiding citizen or a dreaded terrorist?
Originally from Jalandhar, Punjab 45-year-old Hardeep Singh Nijjar was by no definition a law-abiding citizen. One of the most wanted terrorists in India, Nijjar had illegally migrated to Canada in the mid-1990s to escape being arrested by India’s National Investigation Agency (NIA) which had declared a cash reward of Rs 10 Lakh on information leading to his arrest.
Even though Indian Prime Minister raised concerns about extremist elements in Canada, who were posing a threat to Indian diplomats and the Indian community in Canada, Trudeau tried to rake up Nijjar killing as his trump card.
Nijjar who was arrested by the Punjab police in 1995 tried unsuccessfully to migrate to Canada on a fake passport in the name of “Ravi Sharma”. Just 11 days after his claim was denied, Nijjar again tried to become a Canadian citizen by virtue of ‘marriage’ to a woman who was found to be ‘already married’. Eventually, Nijjar’s persistence paid and he managed to become a Canadian citizen on May 25, 2007.
After becoming a Canadian citizen Nijjar, became a prominent member of the Khalistan movement seeking an independent Sikh homeland. His persistence paid off as in 2022 he was re-elected President of Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara and became a leader of the Canadian branch of Sikhs for Justice, a group that is banned in India.
Significantly even when Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau came to India on an eight-day visit in 2018, the then Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh tried his best to convince Punjab not to associate with Sikh extremists in Canada. This notwithstanding the Canadian high commissioner invited Jaspal Atwal, a known Khalistan supporter, to a dinner party which was attended by Trudeau in Delhi. Needless to say, Trudeau’s visit to India in 2018 ended up as a political disaster.
Once again, just a few days before the G20 summit in New Delhi relations between Canada and India nose-dived because of Trudeau’s ‘revelation’. As such Canada and India did not have a one-on-one meeting, but instead met on the sidelines. Even though Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi raised concerns about extremist elements in Canada who were posing a threat to Indian diplomats and the Indian community in Canada, Trudeau tried to rake up Hardeep Singh Nijjar killing as his trump card.
The Canadian police have arrested a suspect in Nijjar’s murder, but the motive for the killing is still under investigation.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) Integrated Homicide Investigation Team (IHIT) and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service case are investigating the case and are yet to come up with the names of the accused and the irrefutable evidence against them.
Like in any other crime, the focus of the investigation is to find out the motive for Nijjar’s killing. According to the preliminary investigation so far it is believed that the motive may be related to Nijjar’s political activism. Nijjar was a vocal supporter of the Khalistani movement, which seeks to create an independent Sikh homeland in Punjab, India.
Nijjar was involved in a number of different businesses, and it is possible that he was killed as a result of a business dispute or a political rivalry.
However, there are a number of possible explanations.
One possibility is that Nijjar was killed by rival Khalistani factions. Nijjar was a controversial figure within the Khalistani movement, and he had been accused of corruption and violence. It is possible that he was killed by his rivals as a way to eliminate him from the movement.
Another possibility is that Nijjar was killed by the Indian government. The Indian government has long been opposed to the Khalistani movement, and it has been accused of using violence to suppress it. It is possible that the Indian government ordered Nijjar’s assassination as a way to weaken the Khalistani movement.
It is also possible that Nijjar was killed by a third party, such as a criminal organization or a foreign government. Nijjar was involved in a number of different businesses, and it is possible that he was killed as a result of a business dispute or a political rivalry.
Finally, the possibility of the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) hand behind Hardeep Singh Nijjar’s killing cannot be ruled out. Some experts have suggested that there is a lot of inner politics between the Sikh separatist groups and the ISI would always like its own people to run the show. The ISI has also been accused of assassinating Sikh leaders who opposed the Khalistan movement.
According to experts even if ISI is not actively involved in Nijjar’s death, the ISI may try to drum up anti-India propaganda and play up Hardeep Singh Nijjar’s killing to further weaken the relations between Canada and India.
It is also possible some other group killed Nijjar to create tensions between India and Canada, or to discredit the Indian government. But the point to be noted is if India really believes in bumping off its enemies, why not Dawood Ibrahim or someone else in Pakistan, why someone like Nijjar who was a nobody and an unknown face in the crowd as far as the larger population of India is concerned.
Five Eyes alliance is known for its secrecy, hence it is highly unlikely that any member will publicly disclose the evidence related to India’s alleged involvement in Nijjar’s death.
All this is mere speculation and there is no evidence to support any of these beliefs at this time.
The investigation into Nijjar’s death is still ongoing, and no conclusions have yet been reached hence the timing of the Canadian government’s allegation to coincide with the G20 summit in New Delhi is suspect.
Surprisingly to support his assertion, Trudeau cited “credible” intelligence from Canada’s Five Eyes intelligence partners, which include the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand.
According to media reports Trudeau, raised this issue directly with Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India “in no uncertain terms” at the G20 Summit in New Delhi.
The point to be noted is that if Trudeau, the RCMP or the Five Eyes intelligence alliance knew that India was behind Nijjar’s killing why did they allow it to happen in the first place? Why did they not try to prevent it?
India on its part vehemently retaliated by labelling Trudeau’s claim as “baseless” and “unfounded” and instead accused Canada of providing a safe haven for Khalistani separatists.
People aware of the functioning of intelligence agencies however say that intelligence agencies don’t advertise what they know and from where they got the information. Five Eyes alliance is known for its secrecy, hence it is highly unlikely that any member will publicly disclose the evidence related to India’s alleged involvement in Nijjar’s death.
According to experts, Intelligence gathering is a complex process involving the collection, analysis, and synthesis of information from various sources. Methods include:
- Human intelligence (HUMINT): Information from human sources, such as informants and spies.
- Signals intelligence (SIGINT): Intelligence from electronic signals like phone calls and emails.
- Imagery intelligence (IMINT): Intelligence gathered from optical and radar images.
- Open-source intelligence (OSINT): Information from publicly available sources like news and social media.
- Intelligence gathering serves various purposes, from countering terrorist groups to combating cyber threats.
Controversies surround the Five Eyes alliance, including a lack of transparency, mass surveillance, privacy concerns, and double standards in assessing surveillance practices.
Some of the challenges that investigators face in solving the case include:
- Lack of evidence: There is no publicly available evidence that India was directly involved in Nijjar’s death. This makes it difficult for investigators to build a case against India.
- Secrecy of the Five Eyes alliance: The Five Eyes alliance is a very secretive organization, and it is unlikely that any of its members will publicly release the evidence that they have on India’s involvement in Nijjar’s death. This makes it difficult for investigators to verify Trudeau’s allegations.
- Complexity of the case: The case is complex, and there are many different factors that investigators need to consider. This includes the motive for the killing, the involvement of individuals or organizations, and the role of the Indian government.
Besides Trudeau, no other Five Eyes member has released specific details or statements regarding India’s involvement. Australian PM Anthony Albanese declined to comment on Five Eyes intelligence, emphasizing the importance of not speculating on such matters.
The Five Eyes alliance, officially known as FVEY, comprises five English-speaking nations collaborating on intelligence sharing. Its history dates back to World War II, primarily countering Axis powers. After the war, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand joined, formalizing the UKUSA Agreement in 1946. The UK, US and Canada project themselves as “global protectors of Human Rights” giving refuge to criminals, separatist and economic offenders escaping the law of their countries.
It is possible that the evidence that investigators gather will lead to the arrest and prosecution of those responsible for Nijjar’s death. However, it is also possible that the case will remain unsolved.
The alliance operates with no formal charter or governing body, ensuring direct and efficient information exchange. It addresses various global security issues, from terrorism to espionage.
Controversies surround the Five Eyes alliance, including a lack of transparency, mass surveillance, privacy concerns, and double standards in assessing surveillance practices. It has also faced criticism for its role in high-profile cases, such as the extradition of Julian Assange.
Despite these controversies, the Five Eyes alliance remains a pivotal player in global intelligence cooperation, helping its member countries combat shared threats effectively.
It is important to note that the investigation into Nijjar’s death is still going on. It is possible that the evidence that investigators gather will lead to the arrest and prosecution of those responsible for Nijjar’s death. However, it is also possible that the case will remain unsolved.