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Nov 22, 2023, 4:54pm EST
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Semafor Signals

Is India increasingly engaged in transnational repression?

Modi and Biden
REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein
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The News

New reports suggest India’s transnational repression efforts may be more pervasive than previously thought.

The Financial Times on Wednesday, citing anonymous sources, reported that U.S. authorities thwarted a conspiracy to assassinate a Sikh separatist on American soil and issued a warning to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi after his high-profile visit to Washington earlier this year. The Intercept on Wednesday, citing leaked Pakistani intelligence reports, suggested a pattern of India targeting Sikh and Kashmiri activists in Pakistan.

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The reports come two months after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s shocking accusation that India’s government was involved in orchestrating the assassination of a Sikh separatist in British Columbia, sparking a diplomatic crisis between Ottawa and Delhi.

The Modi government has repeatedly denied all claims of operations to target dissidents abroad.

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India’s alleged assassination program is only getting attention now because it was accused by a so-called “friendly” country like Canada, a Pakistani military veteran told the Diplomat. However, Delhi’s suspected transnational repression has for years flamed diplomatic spats within South Asia. The Intercept, citing leaked Pakistani intelligence documents, reported that India has likely orchestrated dozens of attempted or successful killings in Pakistan in recent years. Islamabad has repeatedly sounded the alarm about this, but the West believes that “India can do no wrong” and that Pakistan is “just being paranoid,” one scholar on Pakistan told the Intercept. Many powerful nations like the U.S., Russia, and China “resort to assassination,” a former Indian intelligence agent told the Diplomat. And India’s emergence as a rising power on the global stage means it “might do things just as all big nations do.”

India should steer away from copying the West’s actions of targeting political dissidents on foreign soil, writes foreign policy analyst Angshuman Choudhury for the Wire India. The West and Israel’s sense of exceptionalism guides their “rash interventionism,” Choudhury argues, leaving “a messy trail of destruction in the Global South” and angering governments who then look to India and China to build meaningful relationships instead. But by mimicking the West’s policy of killing those it considers enemies in foreign jurisdictions, India risks losing its standing in the region as a “rising power that believes in cooperation, not obtrusion.”

Despite some efforts by the West to counter transnational repression by countries like Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and China, these countries still enjoy diplomatic and trading relations with Western democracies, Time reports. India too will unlikely face any major repercussions even if Canada’s accusations are true because New Delhi is seen by the West as a strategic partner, especially in countering China. Exiles living in Western democracies that continue to share economic ties with perpetrators of transnational repression will never feel truly safe. “It’s definitely a national security issue, but this is also a human rights issue,” the researcher said.

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