The recent news coming in from Canada of two Khalistani terrorists being killed has shocked observers of politics and international relations.
Sukhdool Singh, an aide of Khalistani terrorist Arshdeep Singh, was killed in Canada’s Winnipeg city on Thursday, September 21. The news arrived amid the ongoing diplomatic standoff between India and Canada over the killing of Khalistani terrorist Hardeep Singh Nijjar in Surrey, British Columbia in June 2023.
Certain sections are of the view that these extra-judicial killing had the blessings of the Indian state. Others say that they may even have been actively sanctioned by the authorities concerned. However, without any proof, all this remains in the zone of speculation.
What is clear, however, is that the current Indian security establishment is providing more and more such examples to the common people and the media and if it is not openly accepting responsibility for such acts, then it is not condemning them unequivocally either.
What could this indicate?
An obvious conclusion is the fact that some sections of the state appear not to wait for the rigmarole of long drawn-out judicial processes charging the accused, proving those charges in court battles spread over decades, the court announcing the quantum of punishment and then the concerned parties going through the unending rounds of appeals and petitions before any kind of justice is seen to have been delivered.
In keeping with the mantra — of ‘ghus ke marenge’ (we’ll enter your territory and strike) — that defines the approach of the current dispensation, justice has to be seen to have been served, not just served per se.
Meanwhile, India has strongly denied any connection to the killing of Hardeep Singh Nijjar. However, jailed gangster Lawrence Bishnoi has claimed that Sukhdool Singh was assassinated by the former’s gang members.
Usually, such killings are pinned on the likes of the US, Russia, Israel and Saudi Arabia. It would definitely be one of the few instances in which Indian operatives have been accused of carrying out the killing of a Canadian citizen on Canadian soil — an unlawful violation of the sovereignty of Canada and an unlawful exercise of Indian power inside Canada to meet India’s own ends.
This implies that if enough connection is established between the killers and some kind of state apparatus in India, then India could be held legally accountable. However, this is not the first time that a government has been accused of a killing on foreign soil.
In the past, Israel has acknowledged targeting Palestinian militants, a majority of them through airstrikes and drones.Osama bin Laden, the Al-Qaeda leader, was shot and killed inside a Pakistani compound by U.S. Navy SEALs in 2010. In 2020, Iranian General Qassem Soleimani was again killed by the U.S., this time with a drone strike in Iraq.
In both the cases above, the U.S. reasoned that Bin Laden and Soleimani posed an imminent threat and that its actions were defensive and therefore, justified under international law.
Could India take the same course?
Since Canada is not in conflict with India and India is not engaged in an armed conflict with Canada-based activists, the allowance that states can take life when protecting the lives of others does not apply in Nijjar’s case. However, the Indian state might disagree, citing the fact that the Sikh leader was a terrorist.
So, what legal options does Canada have in this scenario? One way is for it to seek recourse through the International Court of Justice (ICJ). For instance, Canada and its allied recently took Iran to the ICJ — this was over its responsibility for the downing of a Ukraine passenger aircraft that led to the deaths of all 176 passengers and crew in the year 2020.
India, in 2019, accepted the ICJ jurisdiction, albeit with some exceptions, one of them being disputes ‘relating to or connected with facts or situation of armed conflicts, hostilities’. In this case, since both parties needed to have accepted the jurisdiction of the ICJ prior to the ‘conflict’, it might not amount to anything.