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Pannun tests resilience of India-US ties

In the last several days both India and the United States have shown remarkable restraint on the rhetoric front.

For all those basking in delight that Indo-US relations could just be the next best thing that happened after a slice of bread, the indictment unsealed recently must have been a stunner. 

A Manhattan Court charged an Indian national for allegedly plotting to assassinate a dual American-Canadian citizen, Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, on American soil. Worse the indictment alleged that Nikhil Gupta was acting under the orders of an Indian government employee supposedly belonging to an intelligence agency.

Suddenly there was a mad rush to comparisons. Only this September the Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau thundered in his Parliament of alleged government of India connections in the killing of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a national of Canada, in Vancouver. But those in the know of things saw the differences between the two cases: the United States unsealed a specific indictment that listed charges; Trudeau was batting in the realm of allegations.

To say that the recent turn of events in New York have impacted bilateral relations is an understatement. Washington expects certain answers; and New Delhi too needs to get at the bottom of the whole thing. 

The refrain from Day One has been that attempts on Pannun is not government policy and that a high level committee has been constituted to see what this is all about. Still this has not stopped all the tongue wagging—anything from New Delhi being quite capable of trying to pull off a bumping of sorts to rogue elements within intelligence agencies going about on their own.

In the last several days both India and the United States have shown remarkable restraint on the rhetoric front. The American principal deputy national security advisor, Jonathan Finer, on a visit to New Delhi summed it all up: India and the United States have “differences” as well as the “maturity” to handle these in a “constructive” fashion. 

Finer and others in the Biden administration are quite aware of the fact that Pannun is a Sikh separatist and a designated terrorist in India; and a person who has been running his mouth in a vicious fashion in recent weeks. 

Here is a simple question: will the Biden administration sit quiet if an anti-American were to sit in India spewing venom, threatening to blow up American commercial jetliners out of the skies and place bounties on the heads of American diplomats and senior Cabinet ministers? 

Washington would have come down on India with a ton or bricks. Worse, if New Delhi had told that nothing could be done in the name of free speech and expression. 
India and the United States have come a long way and rightfully so have placed their common interests far ahead of occasional pinpricks. But in looking at bilateral relations from a longer term perspective, Washington and New Delhi can make no mistake on the subject of terrorism. 

As President George W Bush put it in 2002, “… if you harbor a terrorist, if you feed a terrorist, we’re going to treat you like a terrorist”. 
 

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