US urges India and Pakistan to calm row over alleged overseas assassinations

By Pratap Chakravarty - RFI

The United States has urged India and Pakistan to ease tensions following a newspaper report that accused Delhi of ordering 20 killings in Pakistan, which the Indian government rejected as "propaganda".

Washington said it preferred a hands-off policy, but that it hoped India and Pakistan would try and resolve the latest row without further trouble.

"We're not going to get in the middle of this situation [but] we encourage both sides to avoid escalation and find a resolution through dialogue," US State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller told reporters.

The UK's Guardian newspaper, quoting unnamed operatives, recently reported that officials in Delhi had ordered the murder of nearly 20 individuals in Pakistan since 2020 – around 15 of them last year alone.

"Interviews with intelligence officials in both countries, as well as documents shared by Pakistani investigators, shed new light on how India's foreign intelligence agency allegedly began to carry out assassinations abroad as part of an emboldened approach to national security after 2019," said the article, published last week.

'False and malicious'

The Guardian claimed that India drew inspiration from spy services in Israel and Russia, and put plans into action after a 2019 suicide attack on an army convoy in Kashmir killed 40 soldiers.

The lengthy investigation does not have a single named source, but is purportedly based on confidential interviews and "detailed documentation" alleging links between the attacks and an Indian spy agency.

India's foreign ministry rejected the report as "false and malicious anti-India propaganda".

"The Pakistan intelligence agency is very good at creating narratives... This is another one they have tried," claimed civil aviation minister VK Singh.

"The Guardian is a paper which lost its credibility a long time back," he added.

Sikhs targeted?

The newspaper's investigation followed allegations in September by Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that Delhi was likely involved in the killing of a Canadian citizen.

It sparked a row that prompted Canada to withdraw 41 diplomats after India threatened to revoke their chartered privileges.

In November, US prosecutors accused an Indian intelligence official of plotting to kill a Sikh dissident in New York.

Advocacy groups including Human Rights Watch demanded a probe after members of the overseas Sikh community staged protests in Britain, Canada and the US.


War of words

Amid the latest tensions, Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh added fuel to the fire by saying that India would enter Pakistan and kill cross-border fugitives who have staged terror attacks in India.

"If any terrorist disturbs the peace in India, we will give a befitting reply. If they run back to Pakistan, then we will go there and kill them," Singh declared.

Islamabad responded sharply to the statement.
'India's assertion of its preparedness to extrajudicially execute more civilians, arbitrarily pronounced as 'terrorists', inside Pakistan constitutes a clear admission of culpability," Pakistan's foreign ministry said.

"History attests to Pakistan's firm resolve and ability to protect and defend itself," it said, and warned that Delhi's "myopic and irresponsible behaviour" could derail regional peace.

Ties between the two testy neighbours nosedived after India revoked Kashmir's special status and split the state into two in August 2019.

India accuses Pakistan of fomenting trouble in Kashmir, where a separatist drive has claimed thousands of lives since 1989.

Pakistan holds a northern third of Kashmir, but seeks the rest of the Himalayan territory which is under Delhi's control.