Guest Editorials, Opinion

India assassination plot breaches global order

In a federal indictment this week, Manhattan U.S. Attorney Damian Williams unveiled an indictment against Nikhil Gupta, an alleged Indian narcotics trafficker who prosecutors say had attempted to hire a hitman — who turned out to be an undercover federal agent — to assassinate Sikh separatist leader Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, a U.S. citizen. The feds say Gupta, who was arrested in the Czech Republic, was directed by a senior Indian government official.

The details sound like something out of a spy novel, but in the real world there are no suave super-spies in tailored suits always ready to save the day.

Just a couple of months ago, Sikh activist Hardeep Singh Nijjar was assassinated in British Columbia, after which Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that the Canadian government was investigating potential ties between the killing and the government of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. That accusation and the subsequent diplomatic turmoil shocked the world, but now twice is a pattern.

In this case, while the specific Indian official who is alleged to have ordered the assassination is not identified, the U.S. intelligence services apparently have direct communications between Mr. X and Gupta, including the directive that Pannun’s murder was “a priority now.” Gupta also allegedly told the undercover that Nijjar’s murder was part of the same operation and that “we have so many targets.” The international community should ensure that Nijjar is the last.

The long tendrils of right-wing authoritarianism are spreading across the world, far outside the borders of the strongmen themselves. It’s certainly not the first time in modern history that despots have directed killings and abductions well beyond their putative jurisdictions, but the brazenness is only getting worse, an indication of the extent to which these figures feel unconstrained by international consequences.

Not that dictators killing their opposition domestically is acceptable; the general project of political violence and demonization that seems to be progressing around the globe, including in the United States, portends dark days ahead. Still, it is especially galling for these antidemocratic factions to reach around the globe to the places where democracy is holding on and assert their authoritarian power.

The only way this stops is if it becomes clear to those regimes that they also won’t be safe from the blowback. The Biden administration is right to have impressed on India that this would not be tolerated.

This editorial first appeared in the New York Daily News. This commentary should be considered another point of view and not necessarily the opinion or editorial policy of The Dominion Post.