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People to people ties take a hit amid New Delhi-Ottawa standoff

India and Canada have issued travel advisories warning citizens about possible security threats

After Ottawa updated a travel advisory for its citizens going to India amid a diplomatic row between the two countries, New Delhi responded with a tit-for-tat move, urging Indian nationals in Canada and those planning to travel to be cautious due to “growing anti-India activities” and “politically-sanctioned hate crimes and criminal violence.”

Indian nationals have been advised to avoid traveling to regions where Indian diplomats, as well as sections of the Indian community “who oppose the anti-India agenda” have been targeted.

In particular, students, who make up a large chunk of the Indian diaspora in Canada, have been advised to “exercise extreme caution” and remain “extra vigilant.”

Canada, in its updated advisory, suggested its citizens “avoid all travel to the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir due to the unpredictable security situation,” as well as the “threat of terrorism, militancy, civil unrest, and kidnapping.” 

The actions of both nations are happening against the backdrop of a spiraling diplomatic standoff, after Canada alleged that the Indian government may have been involved in the killing of pro-Khalistan activist Hardeep Singh Nijjar in June, without sharing any evidence.

While the Khalistan issue, albeit not new, has already stalled bilateral economic relations and frozen talks on free trade deals, the diplomatic escalation can also potentially affect people to people ties. Canada is home to one of the world’s largest Indian diasporas, with approximately 1.6 million people of Indian descent, constituting over 3% of the entire Canadian population. 

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India also continues to be the primary destination for Canada’s foreign students, with around 320,000 Indians studying there at the end of December 2022, thereby making up nearly four out of every ten foreign students in the country. 

The repercussions of the spat could have a significant impact not only on Canada’s bilateral ties with India, but that of the US, the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand – each of which boasts substantial Indian diasporas and strong economic ties with New Delhi. 

Meanwhile, all five nations are parents in the Five Eyes Alliance – an intelligence-sharing group. These countries have weighed in on the matter, while carefully balancing their statements. “These are concerning reports,” said Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong, adding that Australia is “monitoring these developments” with its partners. 

White House National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said in a statement, “We are deeply concerned about the allegations referenced by Prime Minister [Justin] Trudeau earlier today,” adding that it was “critical that Canada’s investigation proceed.” Britain stated on Tuesday that it was in close touch with its Canadian counterparts regarding the “serious accusations” made by Ottawa.

September 21, 2023 at 08:45AM

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