New Delhi said Thursday it is seeking the reduction of Canadian diplomatic staff in India and has stopped visa services, as a row over the killing of a Sikh separatist deepens.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has demanded India treat with “utmost seriousness” allegations that Indian agents played a role in the June murder of Hardeep Singh Nijjar near Vancouver.
The fallout prompted tit-for-tat diplomatic expulsions and a forceful denial from India, which said any suggestion it played a role in Nijjar’s killing was “absurd”.
The allegation has sent already strained relations between the world’s most populous country and G7 member Canada to a new low.
“We have informed the Canadian government that there should be parity” in diplomatic presence, Indian foreign ministry spokesman Arindam Bagchi told reporters.
“Their numbers here are very much higher than ours in Canada… I assume there will be a reduction.”
New Delhi also said it had stopped handling visa applications in Canada, blaming “security threats” which they said were “disrupting” the work of their officials.
“For now, the security situation in Canada and because of Canadian government inaction, we have stopped visa services temporarily”, Bagchi said.
Hours earlier, Canada’s High Commission said it would “adjust” diplomat numbers in India after “threats on various social media” against their staff.
“In light of the current environment where tensions have heightened, we are taking action to ensure the safety of our diplomats,” Canada’s mission said in a statement.
“As a result, and out of an abundance of caution, we have decided to temporarily adjust staff presence in India.”
The mission did not give further details of the number of people leaving but said its offices were “open and operational”, while calling for the safety of its staff to be ensured.
“We expect India to provide for the security of our accredited diplomats and consular officers in India, just as we are for theirs,” it said.
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On Monday, Ottawa expelled a diplomat it described as the head of India’s foreign intelligence service in Canada, prompting New Delhi to order a Canadian diplomat to leave.
The suspension of visas comes a day after India’s foreign ministry said it was concerned for the safety of its citizens in Canada because of “politically-condoned hate crimes and criminal violence”.
“Threats have particularly targeted Indian diplomats and sections of the Indian community who oppose the anti-India agenda,” a ministry statement said Wednesday.
Nijjar was shot dead by two masked assailants outside the Sikh temple he presided over in Surrey, a suburb of Vancouver.
An activist for the creation of a Sikh state known as Khalistan, Nijjar was wanted by Indian authorities for alleged terrorism and conspiracy to commit murder.
He had denied those charges, according to the World Sikh Organization of Canada, a nonprofit organisation that says it defends the interests of Canadian Sikhs.
The Indian government accuses Ottawa of turning a blind eye to the activities of radical Sikh nationalists who advocate the creation of an independent state to be carved out of northern India.
There were signs of a brewing crisis before Trudeau revealed the probe into Nijjar’s death on Monday.
India Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed “strong concerns about continuing anti-India activities of extremist elements in Canada” in his meeting with Trudeau at the G20 earlier this month.
Canada had also suspended negotiations for a free-trade agreement with India, and last week its trade minister cancelled a trip to the country planned for October.
The affair could complicate US government overtures to India, which have seen both countries steadily upgrade their relations over recent years.
Washington views New Delhi as a key ally in countering Chinese influence in the Asia-Pacific region.