Canada’s ‘Nijjar’ Bomb Rumbles, but Does Not Shake Indo-US Partnership

It's not unlikely New Delhi’s alleged involvement in the Nijjar killing could have arisen from a sense of impunity.

5 min read
Hindi Female

When it comes to the recent Canadian Indian fracas, it is worth looking at the alternative scenarios around it. One of those is the possibility that India was indeed, involved in the killing of Hardeep Singh Nijjar. The logic being that New Delhi took advantage of the fact that over the last two decades, the United States has become a major defence partner and geopolitical ally of the country.

It all goes back to the US Secretary of State – Condoleezza Rice’s visit to New Delhi in early 2005. One of her senior aides told the media that his/her boss had presented the Bush Administration’s desire to have a "decisively broader strategic relationship” and that “the goal is to help India become a major world power in the 21st century.” Adding that “we understand fully the implications, including the military implications of that statement.”

Cut to 2023. India has emerged as a major partner of the United States, defence trade has become a central element in the US-India security partnership, and military exercises between their forces are now routine.

India's US Backing

The US Congress has designated India as a “Major Defense Partner” in 2016 and recent developments indicate that the Americans are seeking even closer all-round ties with India.

According to The Washington Post, even before he made his allegations public, Trudeau had raised it with fellow Five Eyes countries and asked them to publicly condemn the Nijjar killing, but they had refused to do so. “The overtures were rebuffed, underscoring the diplomatic balancing act facing the Biden administration and its allies as they work to court an Asian power seen as a crucial counterweight to China.”

It's hardly unlikey that New Delhi’s alleged involvement in the Nijjar killing could have arisen from a sense of impunity. Aware of its growing importance to the United States’ global scheme of things, India seized the opportunity to settle some long-standing scores with Canada.

After all, New Delhi is fully aware that US partners like Saudi Arabia and Israel have not hesitated to take out those they consider enemies on foreign soil. And that the US has more often than not looked the other way.

A New Era of Indo-US Defence Ties

Take the killing of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi by agents of the Saudi government in a Saudi consulate in Turkey. Biden had promised to make Saudi Arabia a "pariah” over its human rights record. But as President, he shifted tracks and after his first meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, all he had to say was that he had raised the issue and rebuked MBS. And now the US is pushing for a Saudi-Israel rapprochement.

India is the world’s largest importer of weapons and is expected to spend some USD 220 billion in the coming decade to modernise its forces. One reason for this is that our current arsenal is based on Russian-supplied equipment which is facing obsolescence.

Our imports from Russia continue, but the US is keen to become a major supplier for two reasons. First, so that it can derive commercial benefit. Second, to cement its geopolitical relationship with India which is based on their antipathy to China.

Between 2008 and now, India has bought some USD 20 billion worth of US defence products. These include transport aircraft like the C 130J Super Hercules, and C-17 Globemaster III, maritime reconnaissance aircraft like the P8I, helicopters like CH-47F Chinooks, the S-61 Sea Kings, MH-60R Seahawks, AH-64E Apaches, Harpoon anti-ship missiles, M-777 howitzers, Stinger hand-held missiles, and a variety of munitions and missiles.

At the same time, the two countries have deepened their relationship through bilateral military exercises which have, over time, become wider in scope and more complex and their frequency has increased.

For more than a decade we have held exercises like Yudh Abhyas, Vajra Prahar, and Cope India. Since 2019, we have had our first tri-service exercise Tiger Triumph. The two countries also participate in a number of multilateral exercises as well.

But now they are entering a new phase of their defence relationship into which Washington is investing a considerable amount of time and effort. As a result in 2022-23, India-US defence ties have shown a qualitative shift.

Expansion of Strategic Co-Operation

There are three factors for this. First, are the tensions arising out of Chinese actions in Eastern Ladakh in 2020, second is the increased tensions between the US and China arising out of developments in the Indo-Pacific. The third is the US decision to create a new domestic industrial framework emphasising semiconductors, green energy, and nearshoring and friendshoring of its supply chains. India looms large in US calculations here.

There were many initiatives and projects announced during and around Modi’s visit to Washington in June and it was not surprising that the joint statement that followed, affirmed "a vision of the United States and India as among the closest partners in the world.”

During the visit, the two sides launched an ambitious Initiative for Critical and Emerging Technologies (iCET) to expand their "strategic technology partnership and defense industrial cooperation” not just between governments, but businesses and academic institutions of the two countries."

Another initiative was the launch of the bilateral Defence Acceleration Ecosystem (INDUS-X) to expand strategic technology and defence industrial cooperation along the lines suggested by the two national security advisers in January on establishing an “innovation bridge linking the US and India". This is envisaged as an ambitious venture which would connect industry and academic institutions and promote public-private partnership.

The General Electric company agreed to jointly produce their GE F-414 jet engine in India. Under the deal, GE will provide 80 per cent technology transfer. India also approved the purchase of 31 armed MQ 9B Sea Guardian and Sky Guardian UAVs in a deal that would be more than USD 3 billion.

A factsheet issued by the White House after the visit indicated that the transfer of technology would be a major factor in the relationship. Besides collaboration in semiconductors, the two nations would develop a partnership on critical minerals, advanced telecom, space, quantum technology, and AI.

Parallel to this US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin and his Indian counterpart Rajnath Singh have issued a roadmap for Indo-US Defence Industrial Cooperation. The US has also announced its aim to make India “a logistic hub for the United States” in the Indo-Pacific. It also declared the US commitment to integrating the Indian defence industry into the global supply chain of US defence and aerospace companies.


US Will Leave No Stone Unturned To Sustain Its Global Order

But let us be clear, the sense of impunity can go as fast as it came. The ties between the US and Canada are deep, it is after all part of CONUS (Continental United States) the primary geography of US defence. It is also the chief trading partner of the US.

Besides, it is linked through the time-tested Five Eyes intelligence sharing pact. While the US, EU, and Japan consider India as a necessary partner in offsetting Chinese power, there are some limits to this.

At the end of the day, we need to understand that US policy is about maintaining American global hegemony, something that the US has been used to since World War II. If that needs India to maintain it, well and good for us. But if it doesn’t, it's just too bad – for India.

This comes at a time when New Delhi is seeking to project itself as a global player, offering arms deals and trade agreements. But the Canadian events have the potential of casting a shadow over them if the issue becomes one of human rights and interference in the domestic affairs of other states.

(The writer is a Distinguished Fellow, Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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Topics:  Saudi Arabia   India-Canada   India-US Ties 

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