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regular-article-logo Thursday, 29 February 2024

‘We take this issue very seriously’: US waits to see ‘results’ on hit job probe

'They told us they would conduct an investigation. They have publicly announced an investigation. And now we’ll wait to see the results of the investigation, but it’s something we take very seriously'

Our Special Correspondent New Delhi Published 07.12.23, 05:12 AM
Gurpatwant Singh Pannun.

Gurpatwant Singh Pannun. File Photo.

The US is keeping up the pressure on India to show “results” of the investigation into the allegation that an Indian government official had directed a plot to assassinate an American citizen in New York, stressing again that “we take this issue very seriously”.

The allegation was made by the US department of justice in an indictment in court made public last Wednesday.

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India did not deny the allegation and only said this was “against government policy”. It has instituted a probe.

Responding to a question on the nature of diplomatic conversations taking place between the US and India on “India’s failed assassination attempt on Khalistani Sikh leader Gurpatwant Singh Pannun in New York”, state department spokesman Matthew Miller said on Tuesday: “We have noted at the most senior levels of this government — the secretary of state has raised this directly with his foreign counterpart that we take this issue very seriously.

“They told us they would conduct an investigation. They have publicly announced an investigation. And now we’ll wait to see the results of the investigation, but it’s something we take very seriously.”

The department of justice had said in the court papers that the Indian government official had in May asked alleged narcotics dealer and gunrunner Nikhil Gupta to get Pannun killed.

In return, Gupta was assured that a case against him in Gujarat would be dismissed. However, the “hitman” Gupta hired for the job was an undercover US law enforcement agent and the plot was thwarted.

The indictment also drew a link between the failed attempt and the assassination of Khalistani separatist Hardeep Singh Nijjar in Canada in June. It said the Indian government official allegedly directing the plot had been keen the murder should not take place around the dates of a high-level India-US engagement in June. Prime Minister Narendra Modi was on a state visit to the US from June 20 to 24.

Asked how confident the US is about the Indian government cooperating given that India is still not cooperating with the Canadian investigation into Nijjar’s murder, Miller said: “We have urged them to cooperate with the Canadian investigation…. With respect to their own investigations… they have said that they will conduct it. We are looking forward to seeing the results of that investigation, and I’m not going to make any assessments, obviously, before the investigation itself is completed.”

President Joe Biden had raised the New York plot directly with Modi when they met in New Delhi on the sidelines of the G20 summit in September. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had at the same time raised the killing of Nijjar with Modi.

Earlier this week, US principal deputy national security adviser Jon Finer led a delegation to Delhi for a scheduled review of the US-India Initiative on Critical and Emerging Technology (iCET) with his Indian counterpart Vikram Misri.

Finer also met external affairs minister S. Jaishankar, national security adviser Ajit Doval and foreign secretary Vinay Mohan Kwatra. During these meetings, the department of justice investigation came up.

According to a White House readout on his visit, Finer “acknowledged India’s establishment of a committee of enquiry to investigate lethal plotting in the United States and the importance of holding accountable anyone found responsible”.

The US has so far not publicly upbraided India for violation of sovereignty in the way Trudeau had done while disclosing in Canada’s House of Commons the allegations of an Indian government hand in Nijjar’s killing.

Miller on Tuesday refused to be drawn into commenting on whether the state department regarded the plan to murder an American national on US soil an attack on sovereignty. “I’m not going to speak beyond what — the information that’s contained in an indictment for I think what are — for what I think are fairly obvious reasons,” he said.

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