Friday, May 3, 2024

India's Modi Brags About Ordering Transnational Assassinations

In a campaign speech on May 1, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi bragged about his campaign of transnational assassinations of individuals he has labeled "terrorists". “Today, India doesn't send dossiers to the masters of terrorism, but gives them a dose and kills them on their home turf", he is reported to have said, according to a tweet posted by his BJP party. Last month, Indian Defense Minister Rajnath Singh made a similar admission. “If any terrorist from a neighboring country tries to disturb India or carry out terrorist activities here, he will be given a fitting reply. If he escapes to Pakistan we will go to Pakistan and kill him there,” Singh said in an interview to Indian TV news network News18. 

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at a BJP Campaign Rally. Source: BJP

Earlier, Pakistan government accused India of carrying out assassinations of Sikh and Kashmiri separatists on Pakistani soil. “We have documentary, financial and forensic evidence of the involvement of the two Indian agents who masterminded these assassinations,” Pakistan's Foreign Secretary Sajjad Qazi said at a news conference in Islamabad.

Pakistan is not alone in accusing India of assassinating dissidents overseas. Canada and the United States are also investigating murders allegedly carried out by Indian agents on their soil. Indian spies have also been kicked out of Australia after being caught monitoring Indian diaspora in the country. "They monitored their country's diaspora community, according to  the Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO) Director-General Mike Burgess  as reported by the Australian Broadcasting Corp (ABC). "They asked a public servant to provide information on security protocols at a major airport."

Derek Grossman on India's Spy Agency RAW. Source: X

Commenting on the news fromAustralia, a US analyst Derek Grossman posted on X:  "Indian RAW gets exposed again, this time in Australia. Maybe, just maybe, they aren’t very good at the spy game". 

Gerry Shih of the Washington Post appears to concur with Derek Grossman's assessment of the incompetence of the Indian spy agencies. Referring to RAW's assassination plot against Sikh activist Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, a US citizen, Shih reported as follows: 

"After the plot against Pannun failed, the decision to entrust (Vikram) Yadav with the high-risk mission sparked recriminations within the agency, former officials said. Rather than joining RAW as a junior officer, Yadav had been brought in midcareer from India’s less prestigious Central Reserve Police Force, said one former official. As a result, the official said, Yadav lacked training and skills needed for an operation that meant going up against sophisticated U.S. counterintelligence capabilities". 

Back in 2018, India's former RAW officers, including one ex chief, have blamed Indian spy Kulbhushan Jadhav, arrested by Pakistan in 2016, for getting caught in Pakistan as a "result of unprofessionalism", according to a report in India's "The Quint" owned and operated by a joint venture of Bloomberg News and Quintillion Media. The report that appeared briefly on The Quint website was later removed, apparently under pressure from the Indian government.


Vineeth said...

The most amusing revelation I saw in the recent Washington Post report on RAW's Pannun assassination plot was that a person deputed from CRPF (an Indian paramilitary) was entrusted with such a critical operation and not an experienced RAW officer. I mean, assassinations of Kashmiri and Khalistani separatists in Pakistan might be a piece of cake for RAW these days, considering that Pakistan's intelligence services is likely overstretched and overburdened in dealing with multiple internal (read political) as well as external challenges emanating from east (India), north (Afghanistan) and west (Iran). But why did RAW leadership think that an outsider from a paramilitary service, and whose only experience in intel-ops may have been against Kashmiri jihadi groups or Naxals in central India, was capable of planning the assassination of a separatist in Western soil under the nose of their very capable intelligence services?

And I do remember reading the Quint article you have mentioned where RAW officials anonymously revealed that Kulbhushan Jadhav was sent to Iran due to a special interest of the Indian NSA, Ajit Doval. But I thought Doval and his lieutenants had since learned lessons from that fiasco.

In hindsight this seems like hubris trumping reason and caution yet again in Modi government's decisions. Though many Indian security analysts believe the threat of Khalistani militancy is often exaggerated (as the movement has almost zero traction these days in Indian Punjab), I do not think Nijjar and Pannun were merely harmless political activists either. But attempting their assassinations in Western soil clearly wasn't worth the risk of exposure in the event of a failure.

Though the Modi govt was initially combative when US and Canadians went public with their accusations, I have noticed a gradual change in tone in their responses since then after US stuck to its guns. The Indian Foreign Ministry spokesperson's response to a question about the recent Washington Post report was rather tame. I guess both Modi govt and US are exploring a compromise solution behind the scenes that would give the former a face-saver, and the latter the assurance they need, without inflicting any long-term damage in ties. Perhaps Modi govt would do what the Saudis did to save their Crown Prince in the Khashoggi murder - find scapegoats and portray it as a "rogue" operation by them without approval from the higher-ups. And an assurance to the Western powers that Indian intelligence would desist from such reckless operations on Western soil in the future. (Pakistan, of course, is a different case. West wouldn't care what RAW does there.)

Riaz Haq said...

Dr. Audrey Truschke
Some truly eye-popping details here about the violent operations of Indian intelligence abroad under Hindu nationalist control.


In a series of arrests that have escalated diplomatic tensions between Canada and India, Canadian authorities have detained three Indian nationals in connection with the assassination of a prominent Sikh separatist leader, Hardeep Singh Nijjar, last year. These arrests have thrown a spotlight on the alleged involvement of India's external intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), in operations beyond its borders, leveraging criminal networks to achieve its objectives. The Canadian Royal Mounted Police (RCMP) have not dismissed the possibility of a connection between the accused and the government of India, raising serious questions about international law and sovereignty.

The reaction from India has been swift, with officials labeling the arrests as a 'political compulsion' on Canada's part, suggesting a complex interplay of international diplomacy and domestic politics. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau acknowledged the fear and concern within Canada's Sikh community, emphasizing the importance of the rule of law in the ongoing investigation. This incident has not only strained the bilateral relations between the two countries but has also highlighted the murky world of international espionage and its intersections with criminal activities.

The case has brought to the fore long-standing accusations against RAW for its alleged tactics of engaging with criminal networks to conduct operations in South Asia, and potentially, as this case suggests, extending those operations into the West. The implications of such…

Riaz Haq said...

Canadian Arrests Highlight Alleged Gang Role in India’s Intelligence Operations - The New York Times

India’s external spy agency, the Research and Analysis Wing, or RAW, has long been suspected of tapping into criminal networks to carry out operations in its immediate neighborhood in South Asia while maintaining deniability.

Canada’s accusation, if proven, that India orchestrated the Nijjar killing — and a similar accusation made soon after by the United States in a different case — may suggest that RAW is now extending its playbook of working with criminals to carry out operations in Western countries, analysts said.

U.S. officials have produced strong evidence in their accusation that an agent of the Indian government participated in a foiled attempt to assassinate a dual American-Canadian citizen. And Canada and allied officials have maintained that Canada has evidence supporting Mr. Trudeau’s claim that Indian agents carried out Mr. Nijjar’s killing.

But the Canadian failure to reveal any evidence that India took part, nine months after Mr. Trudeau’s explosive allegation, leaves the killing of Mr. Nijjar in the realm of accusations and counter-accusation in what is a highly tense political environment in both countries, analysts said.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been flexing his muscles as a nationalist strongman, pitching himself during his ongoing campaign for a third-term in office as a protector of India who would go as far as it takes to target security threats.

During speeches, he has boasted about how his government eliminates enemies by “descending in their homes.” While he has made those references in relation to the country’s archenemy — Pakistan — right wing accounts on social media had celebrated the slaying of Mr. Nijjar in Canada as a similar reach of Mr. Modi’s long arm.

Mr. Trudeau, on the other hand, had been facing criticism of weakness in the face of Chinese election interference activities on Canadian soil, and his getting ahead of the Nijjar killing was seen as compensating for that.

Canadian police announced on Friday that they had arrested the three Indian men in Edmonton, Alberta, the same day and charged them with first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder in the killing of Mr. Nijjar. The suspects had been living in Canada for three to five years but were not permanent residents of Canada, the police said.

The gang that the CBC reported that the hit-men are connected to is led by Lawrence Bishnoi, 31, who is accused of several cases of murder, extortion and narcotics trafficking. He has orchestrated much of it from an Indian jail, where he has been held since 2014. His members are seen as being behind the murder of a popular Punjabi rapper, and threats of attacks on Bollywood celebrities.

Indian security officials have frequently arrested criminals connected to Mr. Bishnoi, often with allegations that the gang’s network stretched as far as Canada and overlapped with those promoting from Canadian soil the cause of Khalistan, a once deeply violent separatist movement with the goal of carving out the Indian state of Punjab as an independent nation.

A large Sikh diaspora resides in Canada, many of them having migrated there after a violent and often indiscriminate crackdown by the Indian government in the 1980s against the movement for an independent Khalistan. While the cause has largely died down inside India, it continues to have supporters among some segments of the diaspora. The Indian government has accused Canada, and several other Western countries, of not doing enough to crack down on the separatists.

Arun said...

"Ghar mein ghus ke marenge" rhetoric dates to 2019 or before.

Anonymous said...

Lastly, you and Vineeth above and all write as people who do not want to feel embarrassed in front of their American and British friends - “face saving” and such. What you fail to realize is that Modi and his BJP don’t give two hoots about all that. They only care that the masses of Indian voters approve. These Us-Canada allegations may prove to be well-founded or maybe not; but this is winning Modi support from the voters of India.

Zen, Germany said...

Populists always care about getting their votes, not how the world judges them

Vineeth said...

Canada isn't critical to India's security or economic interests, and therefore Modi and Co may not care that much about Indo-Canadian relations going south over Nijjar's murder. But the botched assassination plot on Pannun in US soil is another matter. Under the prevailing geo-political situation, India needs US more than US needs India. Indian military has been chronically dependent on Russian weapon supplies so far, and ever since Russia got bogged down in the Ukraine war, the supplies of weapons and spares from that quarter has all but dried up. These include critical spares for its tanks and its severly depleted fighter jet fleet. On the other hand India had been steadily increasing its purchases of American weapons systems, transport aircraft and helicopters, and there are ongoing Indian weapons programs like HAL Tejas, AMCA etc that is dependent on the supply of GE-F404/414 engines. If US were to halt supply of the engine parts, Tejas and AMCA projects would be in a limbo. Even assuming India would be able to source an alternate engine, integrating them into the aircraft would require a lengthy redesign which would set back the project by years. These are just a few examples. Now imagine all of this happening when there is a looming threat of an open war with China in the Himalayas.

India may be a useful "partner" for US in the new Cold War against China, but isn't so critical to American plans as the former may think. It is easy for Modi to brag and chest-thump in front of his adoring domestic audience that under his leadership India will do what it wants and nobody can stop it, but the reality happening behind the scenes could be something different. All that the US needs to do is tighten the right screws and India will feel the pain. Already we can see this happening in the contrast of Modi govt's official responses to Nijjar-gate and Pannun-gate. In the case of the latter, Modi govt is more guarded in its responses either because it feels US knows a lot more about this than Canadians do, or they feel ties with US are too critical to risk over this matter in comparison to that with Canada. When the recent Washington Post report spilled out all the details of foiled plan to assassinate Pannun, even naming the CRPF officer (deputed then to RAW) who planned all of it, Indian foreign ministry spokesperson's response to a question about it was merely that it was a serious matter under investigation and that such news reports aren't "helpful". No outright rejections. No angry rebuttals. No nationalist rants.