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Editorial: Search and destroy

India has asserted that its core issue with Canada remains that of the space given to separatists, terrorists and anti-India elements in its soil.

Editorial: Search and destroy

External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar

Earlier this week, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar said India has never received anything specific and worthy of being pursued by its probe agencies, in the aftermath of a fourth arrest made by Canada in the killing of Khalistan separatist Hardeep Singh Nijjar. Nijjar, who was wanted in India on various terror charges was killed in British Columbia last June, and the episode snowballed into a diplomatic scuffle that strained India’s relations with Canada after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau alluded to the ‘potential’ involvement of Indian agents in the killing.

India has asserted that its core issue with Canada remains that of the space given to separatists, terrorists and anti-India elements in its soil. This month, India’s external intelligence agency R&AW (Research and Analysis Wing) was in the news on account of reports that came in from the US, Canada, Australia and Pakistan of the alleged targeting and killing of Indian-origin Khalistani separatist operatives globally, that was spearheaded by the agency. The Ministry of External Affairs has maintained that extrajudicial killings are not government policy.

It has also rubbished claims by a US newspaper which said American officials believe the R&AW’s previous chief Samant Goel had given the green signal for an assassination operation against Gurpatwant Singh Pannun that was foiled last year. Pannun is a Khalistani activist and lawyer of US and Canadian nationality, and he is on India’s most wanted UAPA terror list. India’s official denials stands in contrast to the rhetoric employed by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, who said last month that India will enter Pakistan to kill terrorists, a sentiment echoed by PM Modi, who employed the logic of deploying a Trojan Horse to root out such terrorists, ostensibly referring to surgical strikes made in 2016 and 2019 on Pakistan.

Singh was responding to a report in a British newspaper that said India had eliminated 20 people in Pakistan since 2020 as part of a broader plan to neutralise terrorists on foreign soil. Security experts have remarked that in the absence of a clear, legal definition of targeted killings in international law, governments are compelled to rely on a checklist before preparing a hitlist. One of them happens to be whether the individual concerned is internationally designated as a terrorist under the UNSC designation list. Secondly, whether it is possible to extradite such individuals or bring them to face judicial proceedings. Lastly, whether the person continues to engage in terror activities, which might require the use of lethal force.

Article 51 of the UN Charter speaks of the right of individual self defence, a provision cited by the US, which has engaged in numerous episodes of targetted killings post-9/11, notably that of Osama bin Laden. Israel has also employed this legality to the hilt, backed by the US, which is a permanent member of the UNSC. The recent episode involving Pannun had allowed the Five Eyes bloc (comprising US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand) to compel New Delhi to tone down its Mossad-like approach to separatists. It’s a moral grey zone that finds resonance in the imagined words of Israeli PM Golda Meir, who responded to the massacre of the Israeli Olympic contingent by the Palestinian militant group Black September, during the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich: “Every civilisation finds it necessary to negotiate compromises with its own values.”

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