The Thorny Question of Extraterritorial Actions: India’s Dilemma in the Nijjar Case

The Thorny Question of Extraterritorial Actions: India’s Dilemma in the Nijjar Case

In May 2011, when then-US President Barack Obama announced the successful elimination of Osama Bin Laden by Navy SEALs in Abbottabad, Pakistan, it sent shockwaves around the world. It also raised a contentious question: Did the United States violate Pakistan’s sovereignty by staging the raid? The answer, many argued, was a resounding yes. However, the prevailing sentiment in the U.S. seemed to be that in the pursuit of a national enemy, geographic borders were not a significant impediment.

Over the years, this principle of pursuing enemies abroad has been evident in various other cases. The daring Entebbe Airport raid in 1976 saw Israel boldly act against Palestinian terrorists who held Israeli hostages in Uganda. Similarly, Israel’s vengeance-fueled pursuit of those responsible for the Munich 1972 Olympics massacre demonstrated a willingness to go to great lengths to protect national interests.

Fast forward to the present day, and the question of extraterritorial actions has resurfaced, this time involving India and Canada. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has made allegations that India was involved in the killing of Khalistan activist Hardeep Singh Nijjar, raising the specter of a foreign state taking lethal action on Canadian soil. It’s a complex situation, riddled with assumptions and uncertainty.

Crucial Question

One crucial question looms large: Can India, like the U.S. and Israel, carry out extraterritorial actions with impunity? This query is especially pertinent in the context of recent diplomatic tensions between Canada and India following Trudeau’s claims. The consequences have included diplomatic expulsions and travel advisories, with both nations seemingly at odds.

Setting aside ethical considerations, the primary issue at hand is whether India can eliminate a pro-Khalistani activist on Canadian soil without facing severe repercussions. The uncertainty surrounding this question mirrors the larger debate on extraterritorial actions.

Walter Ladwig, a South Asian security expert, noted that India’s external intelligence organization, R&AW, has historically refrained from operations in the West. However, the situation may be evolving. This underscores the fundamental rule of covert operations: avoiding detection is paramount. But should a covert operation be exposed, the ability to evade consequences becomes the pivotal factor.

In Canada-China relations, Trudeau’s acknowledgment of foreign interference by Beijing did not result in strong action. This raises doubts about whether India, if indeed responsible, possesses the global clout to escape unscathed from a significant action on Canadian soil.

The coming weeks are likely to provide clarity on this issue. U.S. President Joe Biden’s announcement that he will be the chief guest at India’s Republic Day parade signals a desire for swift resolution, urging both nations to resolve the Nijjar issue. Trudeau, meanwhile, is maintaining a guarded stance.

No Concrete Evidence

However, it’s essential to remember that there is currently no concrete evidence implicating R&AW in Nijjar’s killing. The former head of Canadian security, Richard Fadden, suggests that Trudeau’s statements would require robust intelligence. Moreover, there has been no dissent from Canada’s Five Eyes allies regarding the credibility of these allegations.

As former R&AW chief A. S. Dulat asserts, the intelligence agency has historically refrained from extrajudicial killings. Whether there has been a policy shift is a subject of speculation that requires evidence to substantiate.

The Nijjar case underscores the complex and contentious nature of extraterritorial actions. The ability of a nation to execute such actions with impunity is contingent on multiple factors, including global influence, evidence, and the reactions of the international community.

As the situation unfolds, it serves as a reminder that the boundaries of state actions are continually evolving, and accountability remains a matter of intense debate.