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US authorities prevented the attempted assassination of a Sikh activist on American soil by alleged Indian government agents, according to a recent report that has prompted questions about India’s involvement in plots targeting Sikh separatists and advocates living abroad, the Wall Street Journal reported.
The Financial Times wrote this week that the United States thwarted the attempted killing of Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, an American and Canadian citizen who is a lawyer for a group called Sikhs for Justice.
Unnamed sources told the FT that Washington had warned New Delhi this summer it had intelligence suggesting the Indian government was involved in the conspiracy.
On Wednesday, US officials noted that their Indian counterparts expressed “surprise and concern” about the allegations, and said “activity of this nature was not their policy.”
Following the allegations, India’s Ministry of External Affairs issued a statement acknowledging that Washington has “shared some inputs” and that the information was a “cause of concern for both countries.”
Meanwhile, Pannun – a vocal critic of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi – accused the Indian government of trying to assassinate him. He then called for “Sikh sovereigntists” to “continue to campaign for (the) liberation of Punjab from the Indian occupation.”
The recent allegations come months after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau publicly accused India of being involved in the murder of another Sikh separatist leader, Hardeep Singh Nijjar, in British Columbia earlier this year.
Trudeau’s comments came after Canadian intelligence intercepted communications among Indian diplomats, suggesting New Delhi’s involvement in the Nijjar killing. India rejected the allegations.
The accusations caused a diplomatic row between the two countries, leading to the expulsion of diplomats and the temporary suspension of visa services.
The Sikh community – primarily residing in the north Indian state of Punjab and with a significant diaspora in Canada – has been in conflict with Modi’s ruling Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party.
This tension has revived discussions about a separate Sikh homeland, known as Khalistan, which gained momentum in the 1970s and 1980s. Although India suppressed the separatist movement in the 1990s, advocating for Khalistan remains a sensitive issue.
The recent accusations have come to light during a tricky period for the Biden administration, which is actively seeking to strengthen its relationship with India as a strategic move against China, according to the Washington Post.