‘Deeply concerned’ White House asks India to cooperate in probe into Sikh separatist leader’s murder

The US is “deeply concerned” by Canada’s serious allegations that accuse India of being involved in the assassination of a Sikh leader, the White House said, urging New Delhi to cooperate in the investigations.

Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau kicked up a storm on Monday after he said there were “credible allegations” that the Indian government played a role in the murder of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a Sikh separatist leader who was shot dead in June.

The allegations have sparked a diplomatic row with India, that has roundly rejected the allegations and called them “absurd”.

White House national security spokesman John Kirby on Wednesday said the investigations by Canada should “proceed unimpeded”.

“We were deeply concerned by these allegations prime minister Trudeau laid forward and remain in regular contact with our Canadian partners,” Mr Kirby said. “They’re investigating and that should proceed unimpeded.”

Mr Kirby also said Washington’s relationship with New Delhi “remains vitally important, not only for the South Asia region but of course for the Indo Pacific”.

In a separate interview with CNN, Mr Kirby said president Joe Biden “is mindful of these serious allegations” and said “we support Canada’s effort to investigate this”.

“We believe a fully transparent comprehensive investigation is the right approach so that we can all know exactly what happened and of course, we encourage India to cooperate with that,” Mr Kirby said.

The widening diplomatic row has put the US in a tight spot.

The US is caught between Canada, one of its closet Nato allies that is also part of the intelligence-sharing-group of nations called the Five Eyes, and India, an increasingly important partner for Washington to counter China.

CNN’s Jake Tapper also asked Mr Kirby what the US’s response would be if it gets proven that the Narendra Modi government ordered the assassination of a Canadian national.

Mr Kirby replied saying the US would not get ahead of investigations and start looking at recommendations and behaviours to pursue once they have all the facts.

Mr Kirby also shot down a report that suggested the US had rebuffed Canada.

He was referring to a Washington Post report that said Canada had approached the Five Eyes nations for a joint condemnation of India on the issue weeks before the recent G20 summit.

“There’s been some press speculation out there... that the United States rebuffed Canada in terms of talking about their investigation, and I just want to stress that those reports are just flatly false, untrue,” Mr Kirby said.

Ottawa’s requests were turned down as Western leaders did not want to spoil India’s moment at the G20, seen as an “important coming-out party” for Mr Modi, the report claimed.

The Canadian foreign ministry’s spokesperson had also dubbed the report “false”.

Nijjar, 45, was shot dead on 18 June in the parking lot of a gurdwara in Surrey, British Columbia.

He was the president of the Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara and dubbed a “terrorist” in India. The country’s officials also slapped a Rs1m (£9,710) bounty for information leading to his arrest.

Nijjar was accused of leading a proscribed militant organisation called the Khalistan Tiger Force which calls for a separate homeland for the Sikh religious community to be carved out of India’s Punjab state.

“Any involvement of a foreign government in the killing of a Canadian citizen on Canadian soil is an unacceptable violation of our sovereignty,” Mr Trudeau told the Canadian parliament on Monday.

In a tit-for-tat move after Mr Trudeau went public with the allegations, the countries expelled diplomats from each other’s countries. On Wednesday, India issued a travel warning for its citizens in Canada and urged them to “exercise utmost caution”.

It came after videos went viral of members of the Khalistan movement issuing threats to Hindu Indians residing in Canada, demanding they leave the country.

Canada has an estimated Indian-origin population of 1.4 to 1.8 million that includes the largest Sikh population in the world outside of India’s Punjab state.

The issue of the Khalistan movement – that had peaked in India after a violent insurgency in Punjab in the 1980s – has long remained a thorn between Indo-Canadian ties.

New Delhi says Mr Trudeau’s government is politically beholden to the Sikh community.

Canada’s immigration minister Marc Miller dismissed the new claims, saying it’s important to maintain calm in Canada and said the country remains safe.

Canada has dismissed India’s concerns over the safety of its people, saying it is one of the safest places for everyone.

“People should read that statement for what it is,” Mr Miller told reporters on Parliament Hill. “Canada, by any standard, is one of the safest, if not the safest, country in the world that is governed by the rule of law.”