The worst of all possible worlds.
A U.S.-led global strategy on confronting Beijing: suckerpunched. Canada's Indo-Pacific Strategy: gutted. And the Khalistanis haven't been this emboldened since Indira Gandhi's assassination in 1984.
Hell of a week
I’ll be covering a lot of ground in this Real Story Weekend Special. Much of what you’ll be reading here is unreported backstory to the collapse of Indo-Canadian relations. The thing that’s freaking everyone out right now has been gliding under the radar for a long time.
I’ll have some gruesome stuff that I’ve had to sit on for quiet a while along with other information I’ve gathered this past week. It should shine some light down those dark alleyways where some Canadian journalists fear to tread, and others just don’t have the time or the resources or the inclination to explore.
The foreground is the NATO-wide shuddering set off by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s shocking insinuation in the House of Commons on Monday that Indian prime minister Narendra Modi was behind the June 18 gangland-style murder of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, president of the Guru Nanak temple in Surrey, B.C.
The background I’m working with comes from a variety of sources. Some of it comes from India, from the raw material that ends up in not-always-reliable warrants and First Information Report (FIR) documents and Interpol Red Notice requests. The more disturbing information that’s come my way is about Nijjar and his circle. It’s first-hand, solid evidence, some of it surreptitiously obtained by perfectly loyal Canadians, devout Sikhs who are routinely dismissed as “Indian government agents.”
Despite this newsletter’s heft, I’m barely scratching the surface here.
Hardeep Singh Nijjar was nothing like the peace-loving, devout Sikh leader you’ve been hearing about from the articulate gentlemen of the World Sikh Organization (WSO) who have been appearing on all the national news broadcasts. And while glorifying terrorism is not a crime in Canada as it is in the United Kingdom and Europe, the Sikhs For Justice (SFJ) outfit that Nijjar was so closely associated with has been skating perilously close to the commission of hate crimes and incitement to murder.
For deeper background, new arrivals at The Real Story might want to acquaint themselves with this newsletter’s recent archives, particularly the series I assembled in the days and weeks following Nijjar’s murder. So, if you’re still interested when you’re done reading this weekend special edition, take your pick:
Journalism can be exhausting and thankless and the best work always makes enemies. To be a friend of the Real Story, subscribe. A paying sub gets you into the archives and past any paywalls.
Hell of a week? Whatever might you mean?
This edition of the Real Story is late in arriving because of the back-to-back triple shifts I’ve put in for the National Post, After Trudeau alleges murder plot, Canada-India relations may be irreparable; the Post and the Ottawa Citizen, Trudeau wins by making himself the centre of attention — again; and my piece in the Times of India this weekend: Why he dressed up extremist claims.
Online this weekend you’ll also find my conversation with the journalist and historian Hindol Sengupta in Delhi. Hindol’s a columnist with the New Indian Express, and columnist and editor-at-large with Fortune India. Great guy. Podcast right here.
I’ve turned down eight requests for contributions this week, just from Indian media, and I’m tired, and there are only a few really decent motorcycle-riding days left before the rains come. And yet here I am, so please be kind and cut me some slack. Today’s newsletter is as close to the whole damn story as you’ll find anywhere, so you should put your feet up.
Do you think Indian agents did it?
I’m going to get into some background below to help subscribers make up their own minds about this question. I’m going to get my own answer out of the way right here because it’s the big question people have been asking me all week. There’s another question that’s just as important that nobody’s asking out loud, but we’ll wait a moment for that.
For starters, it would be nearly impossible for there not to be what Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has coyly described as a “potential link” between Indian government agents and the gangland-style killing of Khalistani militant Hardeep Singh Nijjar on June 18 outside the Guru Nanak Temple in Surrey, B.C., where Nijjar served as president.
For reasons I’ll get into below, there are crowds of “agents” and informants that India’s Research and Analysis Wing relies on who have been present in Canada’s Sikh temples for years, and understandably so. And they were very, very busy in the lead-up to Nijjar’s murder.
The “Indian agents killed Nijjar” proposition is also easily understood as plausible if you define the term “Indian government agents” in the typically loose way the Khalistanis use it - a verbal cue Trudeau may have picked up from the Khalistanis themselves. Among these so-called “agents” are the associates of hardcore Khalistani geezers from the old days who have come in from the cold and thrown in their lot with Modi. They can be quite trigger-happy and they do not abide backchat.
Also, while Trudeau referred only to “allegations” which he called “credible,” you’ll get completely thrown off track if you hype “allegations” to mean “evidence,” as some of my colleagues in the news media have done. It’s complicated too by the practice of intelligence agencies to sometimes classify “allegations” as “intelligence.”
So there’s all that. But it’s also plausible that Narendra Modi’s government has simply had quite enough of the constant and terrifying background noise of Khalistani violence in India, and with Ottawa’s indifference to the rising spectre of Khalistanis using Canada as a safe haven to drag India back into the horrific bloodshed of the 1980s.
Maybe this, or maybe that? Maybe lots of things, all at once.
It has not been Delhi’s custom to engage in clandestine overseas operations targeting terrorists. Maybe that’s changing. Maybe Modi is becoming something like a post-Munich Golda Meir, with his very own, scaled-down Wrath of God policy.
Unhelpfully paranoid speculation along these lines has been making the rounds at the fringes of the Sikh diaspora for a while, but there’s been some suggestive evidence for it lately. The notion is gaining some respectability. Avinash Paliwal, from the international relations faculty of Soas University of London, says it’s plausible: “India might just be, or is, the new Israel.”
But to consider whether there’s any truth to it, it’s necessary to be disabused of the commonplace idiocy that the Khalistanis merely represent some popular non-violent movement favoring a sovereignty-association arrangement of some sort between Punjab state and the Republic of India.
The “Khalistan” proposition is vehemently opposed by the Sikhs of Punjab and animated in no small measure by Pakistan’s sinister Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) vampires. It is explicitly intended to open a giant crater in Northern India. It would leave Punjab’s historic territory inside Pakistan’s borders undisturbed but take in all of India’s Punjab, along with Haryana and Himachal Pradesh and chunks of Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan. The plan is to ultimately “Balkanize” the Indian subcontinent, as Nijjar’s Sikhs For Justice puts it.
Then again, maybe the unconscionable rule-breaking audacity Trudeau has attributed to Modi is just Trudeau changing the foreign-interference channel from the damning evidence against him in the matter of his occluded affinities with the Being-aligned Mandarin bloc in Canada. On the “foreign interference” front, Trudeau has now shifted the spotlight entirely from Beijing’s monkeywrenching operations on the Liberals’ behalf in the 2019 and 2021 elections.
Maybe Trudeau jumped the shark on Monday because he knew the Globe and Mail was preparing a story about the “allegations” regarding Nijjar’s murder and he needed to conjure something to excuse the laughing stock he made of himself at the G20 in Delhi, and to explain why Modi had treated him like an annoying teenager.
Maybe Trudeau is so desperate about his minority government’s rapid drop in the polls, and about the prospect of support tipping too far in the direction of his coalition partner Jagmeet Singh, that he’s just opted to do some crazy, attention-getting thing that he and only he can tell us about.
Maybe a lot of things, but the sole source of Monday’s sensational story, all these days later, remains Justin Trudeau himself. That’s just one of the reasons why it’s necessary to comprehend this story very, very carefully, and to allow for cautions and caveats, no matter how much buzzkill a sober reading will introduce into such an exciting “narrative.”
What Trudeau is alleging would be a very big deal indeed, “if proven true,” as Trudeau’s own foreign affairs minister, Melanie Joly, let slip the other day.
Here’s the saucy question I alluded to a few paragraphs ago: “If proven true” that it’s really a straightforward matter of Indian intelligence agencies assassinating a Canadian on Canadian soil, could India have been at least arguably justified?
Obviously and properly no Canadian politician could or should ask something like that out loud. I’m not a politician. I don’t propose an answer to the question, but subscribers should maybe keep the question in mind while reading what follows below. But first:
A gulf becomes a chasm. The chasm becomes a sinkhole.
It’s necessary to understand that a vast gulf of distrust has been separating senior officials in India’s national security and intelligence establishment from their Canadian counterparts, from times long predating Trudeau’s assumption of power in 2015.
It goes all the way back to the prologue to the 1984 Air India atrocity. Indira Gandhi’s government and India’s high commissioners in Ottawa and India’s Research and Analysis Wing had grown hoarse warning about the Khalistanis who were operating in Canada, openly. They still are.
The Air India bombing was plotted, planned and executed in this country, under the noses of the RCMP and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, by characters Canada had refused to extradite to India. The subsequent investigations were such a shambles that only one man, Inderjit Singh Reyat, went to jail for it.
There are currently at least ten individuals India wants extradited from Canada. One of them is the SFJ’s Gurpreet Singh Pannun. I’ll be coming to him in a bit.
For reasons I’ve explained in the National Post and the Ottawa Citizen, and in this newsletter’s Khalistan series over the summer and in the Times of India this weekend, this gulf of distrust dramatically widened and deepened after Trudeau settled into the Prime Minister’s Office in 2015.
My case was confirmed this weekend by no less a figure than Omer Aziz. He was a key policy adviser in Trudeau’s shop starting in 2017, while working as a top official in the Foreign Minister’s office. “From the first briefing, it was clear that India-Canada relations were headed in the wrong direction,” Aziz writes in the Globe and Mail.
“Canada should have at least begun to take steps to ensure our land was not used for terrorist financing. . . The only problem was, Mr. Trudeau did not want to lose the Sikh vote to [NDP leader] Jagmeet Singh. So we dug in our heels.”
Now that is a genuinely ‘bombshell’ admission. I’ll resist the urge to say ‘I told you so’ (although I kinda just did there, sorry).
You could quibble with bits of Omer’s tell-all but everything’s there. At the very top of the Liberal government, he writes, “we could hardly focus on foreign policy and strategy without factoring in which ridings might be lost because a certain group might be upset.”
The whirlwind Canada has reaped is “the worst of all possible worlds,” says Omer Aziz. Trudeau has now shattered Canada’s relationship with India and threatened to open a rift in the U.S.-led western alliance. Which is what I wrote in the Times of India this weekend.
The 2018 India-Canada security agreement Trudeau agreed to sign, so as to attempt a costume-change during the self-inflicted humiliation of his magical mystery fashion-show across India that year, did nothing to resolve matters.
As of this week, that 40-year-old gulf became a chasm that threatens to undermine the struts holding up vital diplomatic undertakings that U.S. President Joe Biden had been hoping Modi would join to defend against the contemporary Molotov-Ribbentrop entente between Moscow and Beijing.
It’s like a giant sinkhole now. Over the past week it’s swallowed up the entire centrepiece of Ottawa’s Indo-Pacific Strategy. The Canada-India free trade talks, 12 years in the making, are comatose. Nobody is willing to guess when the talks might be revived, if ever. More than 80,000 Canadians visit India every year, but India’s external affairs ministry has now stopped issuing visas in Canada altogether, indefinitely.
Despite the avalanche of journalistic attention paid to the story and its fallout, despite some solid reporting about intelligence-sharing among and between Canada’s “Five Eyes” partners, Justin Trudeau’s central proposition remains unverifiable and unfalsifiable.
The reporting reasonably affirms that some of Canada’s allies have been saying reassuring things to Trudeau and badgering Modi about what the hell is really going on.
Despite the accounts from reputable journalists like the CBC’s Evan Dyer (unfortunately tabloidized by CBC’s editors) about Canadian spies eavesdropping on Indian diplomats, and the CBC’s reliance on important-sounding terms like SIGINT (signals intelligence, ordinarly meaning wiretaps or digital information) and HUMINT (human intelligence, also known as stuff people say), nothing changes this:
We’re still going solely on Trudeau’s claim about “allegations” which may indeed be credible, “if proven true,” as Joly put it, which happen to be the same allegations anyone who has been paying attention has been hearing from the Khalistani side, ever since Nijjar got whacked.
The New York Times reports that despite widespread media accounts in Canada relying on the claims of Khalistani militants, U.S. officials deny that Canadian spies were warning Nijjar about an Indian plot to kill him in the days before June 18.
While British Columbia premier David Eby was initially reported to have been “disturbed” by the CSIS briefing Trudeau had arranged for him, Eby went on to explain that what was “frustrating” about it was that there was nothing to it. The “bombshell” secrets in the CSIS briefing turned out only to be what Eby called “open source” information “available to the public doing an internet search.”
We’ve come to the part where everything gets really dark.
Do please come on in.