India-Canada ties hit a new low on Tuesday, with both countries expelling a senior diplomat each after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau alleged the involvement of “agents of the Indian government” in the killing of a prominent Sikh separatist leader in Surrey in June, claims outrightly rejected by New Delhi as “absurd” and “motivated”.
Hardeep Singh Nijjar, 45, the chief of the banned Khalistan Tiger Force (KTF) and one of India’s most-wanted terrorists who carried a cash reward of ₹10 lakh on his head, was shot dead by two unidentified gunmen outside a gurdwara in Surrey in the western Canadian province of British Columbia on June 18.
The Canadian foreign minister’s office identified the expelled Indian diplomat as Pavan Kumar Rai, the head of India’s foreign intelligence agency in Canada, the Toronto Star newspaper reported.
Who is Pavan Kumar Rai?
- Pavan Kumar Rai is a 1997-batch IPS officer of the Punjab cadre.
- Rai is familiar with the Khalistani insurgency in Punjab.
- In Canada, Rai held the Research and Analysis Wing’s (R&AW) position of station chief, which is an officially designated intelligence post in the country.
- According to security experts, now it’s up to Trudeau to provide evidence which shows that Rai had told or assigned someone to kill Hardeep Singh Nijjar.
- Rai has served as a joint secretary in the ministry of external affairs handling personnel.
- Some reports claimed that Rai was posted as the top cop in Punjab’s Tarn Taran district in 2009 and 2010.
- Rai is reportedly close to Samant Kumar Goel, the former chief of the R&AW.
- In 2018, the MEA announced Rai’s appointment to the ministry position, and he was soon moved to Ottawa, to work in the Indian high commission.
India responded in kind and expelled Olivier Sylvestere, who is the Canadian intelligence agency station chief in India, said people familiar with the matter.
Who is Olivier Sylvestere?
- Olivier Sylvestere was operating in India under official cover, said one of the persons. He must leave India within five days.
- The decision to expel the Canadian diplomat reflects the Indian government’s growing concern at the interference of Canadian diplomats in internal matters and their involvement in anti-India activities, according to a statement by India’s foreign ministry.
The use of diplomatic titles to protect intelligence officers in foreign countries has long been a standard practice adopted by several countries. Most countries maintain an intelligence service within their embassies.