Less than two weeks after the US Justice Department made public a sensitive case involving the June 20023 assassination attempt on a Sikh resident in New York City by alleged Indian agents, FBI Director Christopher Wray will be in Delhi next week even as the Indian security establishment has taken a guarded stand on the American allegations.
Wray’s visit to Delhi will take place at a time when US-India relations have suffered a setback in the backdrop of serious reports that Khalistani leaders were targeted by elimination by Indian agents in Canada and the US.
While this is an irritant in Indian-US ties, New Delhi’s continuing support to the Sheikh Hasina regime in Dhaka has also negatively impacted relations with Washington DC.
India’s “overzealous” and “open” support to the Sheikh Hasina regime, which has been under pressure from the US to hold free, fair, participatory and inclusive elections, is being viewed in Dhaka as “coming in the way of American punitive measures” against the ruling Awami League government.
Responding to a question in the Upper House on December 7, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar sought to draw a distinction between Canadian government allegations involving the assassination of a Khalistani extremist leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar at Surrey in Vancouver and the attempt on US citizen Gurpatwant Singh Pannu’s life in June.
“As far as Canada is concerned, no specific evidence or inputs were provided to us. So the question of equitable treatment to two countries, one of whom has provided input and one of whom has not, does not arise,” Jaishankar said in response to a supplementary question.
“So far as the US is concerned, certain inputs were given to us as part of our security cooperation with the United States. Those inputs were of concern to us because they (were) related to the nexus of organised crime, trafficking and other matters. Because they have a bearing on our national security, it was decided to institute an inquiry into the matter and an inquiry committee has been constituted,” he said.
Last month, US federal prosecutors charged Indian national Nikhil Gupta with working with an Indian government employee in the foiled plot to kill Sikh separatist Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, who holds dual citizenship of the US and Canada.
However, Wray’s visit to Delhi is being seen as “important” in the backdrop of the revelation of only one Indian national’s name in the attempt on Pannun’s life. The Justice Department’s indictment of Nikhil Gupta, who was arrested by Czech Republic authorities (on the FBI’s request) on June 30, 2023, was a key conspirator in the Pannun case.
The US authorities have so far preferred to conceal the identity of a second “Indian government official” – referred in Gupta’s indictment as ‘CC-1’ who had previously worked in the Central Reserve Police Force – but a careful reading of US court documents indicate that American officials may be aware of the involvement of other Indian officials as well.
Government officials in Delhi were unwilling to discuss the purpose of Wray’s visit, but sources indicated that the FBI chief may not shy away from telling senior Indian security officials that additional disclosures in the Pannun case might be in the offing in the near future.
Some officials suspect that the US authorities may have positively identified two or three other Indian individuals, including ‘CC-1’, who featured in a video conversation with Gupta when the alleged assassination attempt was at a planning stage. They also did not rule out the possibility that US investigating agencies may be in possession of evidence of money transfer linking Indian security officials to the “hit job” on Pannun.