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A Dark Shadow on New Delhi’s Credibility On the U.S. indictment

Context:

The recent release of a U.S. indictment against an Indian individual accused of targeting Khalistani separatists in North America, allegedly at the request of a government official, remains an unproven allegation awaiting trial. Nevertheless, it has already cast a somber shadow over New Delhi’s credibility concerning both covert capabilities and public communication, demanding a thoughtful response.

Relevance:

GS2-

  • Bilateral, Regional and Global Groupings and Agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interests.
  • Effect of Policies and Politics of Developed and Developing Countries on India’s interests, Indian Diaspora.

Mains Question:

The lasting impact of the episode of the American indictment against an Indian national will lie in the image India wishes to project to the world. Comment. (15 marks, 250 words).

Additional Operations Attracting Attention

  • The indictment is also preceded by a series of intelligence activities that have faced legal challenges in friendly nations in recent times.
  • These include the controversial return of United Arab Emirates princess Latifah by the Indian Coast Guard in 2018, the “attempted kidnap” of fugitive businessman Mehul Choksi from Antigua to Dominica in 2021 by British nationals, and the conviction of eight former Indian naval officers in Qatar for espionage.

Distrust Remains a Prominent Issue

  • The U.S. places a greater emphasis on countering the alleged plot against these individuals rather than addressing their activities.
  • From India’s perspective, given its profound concerns about Mr. Pannun’s radical rhetoric, including threats against Air India flights and diplomats, the U.S.’s actions are viewed as a breach of trust.
  • The fact that the U.S. did not share all its information with India raises doubts about claims of peak security cooperation between the two countries this year.
  • Despite multiple high-level meetings between U.S. and Indian officials, it seems the U.S. has cautioned India without revealing the complete extent of the gathered information.
  • These actions evoke memories of the nature of intelligence sharing in 2008 when the U.S. alerted India to the impending 26/11 terror threat (November 2008 Mumbai attacks) without disclosing that the source was Lashkar-e-Taiba operative David Coleman Headley.
  • Subsequently, after Headley’s arrest, a plea bargain prevented his prosecution in India, and the government had to rely on his video-recorded testimony for the trial.
  • While India has summoned envoys and raised concerns publicly with leaders in the latter cases, it has been more discreet in addressing its concerns with the U.S.
  • Conversely, a well-documented double standard exists in the West regarding extrajudicial covert operations and assassinations. Agencies like the CIA, MI6, and Mossad have often eliminated perceived threats on foreign soil, while simultaneously condemning other nations for similar actions.
  • Despite the significant strengthening of the India-U.S. relationship, touted as the “most consequential partnership of the century,” these double standards persist.

Impact on the Regional Vicinity

  • Looking beyond, India must confront the repercussions of the case on its neighboring countries.
  • South Block and Indian embassies in the region will need to go the extra mile to reassure neighboring countries, particularly in Kathmandu, Dhaka, Male, and Colombo, where discussions about India’s purported involvement in domestic politics are often exaggerated.

Way Forward:

  • This incident underscores that while bilateral and strategic ties are advancing in various domains, trust between the two countries has not progressed at a similar pace.
  • While much attention is directed toward the short-term question of whether Mr. Biden will confirm his attendance at the Republic Day parade and the Quad summit in January, both sides must consider the impact on the long-term trajectory of their relationship.
  • Furthermore, South Block must assess the repercussions of its actions among Western allies, including the “Five Eyes” intelligence partnership (Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the U.K., and the U.S.).
  • India faces a choice between projecting itself as a “hard power” willing to take international risks and strain relationships in pursuing perceived threats worldwide through any means it deems appropriate.
  • Alternatively, it could present itself as an adherent to international law, constructing its case through diplomatic channels and garnering global support to achieve its objectives, even if it risks being perceived as a “soft power.”

Conclusion:

The Ministry of External Affairs has unequivocally stated that covert, extrajudicial assassinations are not part of this government’s policy, and an investigation will be conducted into the allegations. A thorough examination will reveal whether India’s actions align with its stated values and interests.


February 2024
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