US indictment of Indian in failed assassination plot won’t impact relationship, say foreign policy experts


Foreign policy experts said on Wednesday that the indictment filed by the United States Justice Department against an Indian national for his alleged involvement in a foiled plot to assassinate a US-based leader of the Sikh separatist movement and a citizen in New York, may not affect the strong India-US strategic relationship.

In his post on X (formerly Twitter), Michael Kugelman, South Asia Institute Director at The Wilson Center, said that the Indo-US strategic relationship is too big to fail.

“Even w/more info known about the plot, I still think damage to US-India ties will be modest. White House knew of plot in July, but no cancelation of later high-level meets (Biden/Modi at G20, 2+2). US didn’t retaliate, just said it shouldn’t happen again. A relationship too big to fail. I don’t want to underplay the significance of this a strategic partner carrying out an assassination on US soil. With many/most other countries, the relationship would be torpedoed. But ample trust/strategic considerations loom large. Also leads to free passes most don’t get” Kugelman said.

On Wednesday, the US Justice Department claimed that an Indian government employee (named CC-1), who was not identified in the indictment filed in a federal court in Manhattan, recruited an Indian national named Nikhil Gupta to hire a hitman to carry out the assassination, which was foiled by US authorities. Gupta was arrested in the Czech Republic.

In its indictment, the US Justice Department has claimed that, earlier this year, an Indian government employee working together with others, including Gupta, allegedly directed a plot to assassinate a political activist who is a US citizen of Indian origin residing in New York City. Though the activist is not named, it is believed to be Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, the founder of Khalistani separatist group
Sikhs For Justice.

The Justice Department claimed that Gupta is an associate of CC-1, and has described his involvement in international narcotics and weapons trafficking in his communications with CC-1. The indictment claims CC -1 directed the assassination plot from India.

Derek J Grossman, National Security and Indo-Pacific analyst at the RAND Corporation says that Washington DC recognizes the importance of India.

“India has virtually nothing to worry about after today’s explosive news. Reality is DC needs New Delhi far more than other way around due to Biden admin’s Indo-Pacific strategy to counter China. But US leeway isn’t unlimited and more bad behavior could chip away at recent gains,” Grossman said in his post on X.

Lisa Curtis, Director of the Indo-Pacific Security Program at the Center for a New American Security, said India needs to cooperate with the US to address the issue.

“India should cooperate fully and immediately with the US to address this shocking development or risk hard-fought progress in US-India relations,” Curtis said in her post on X.

Indian national Nikhil Gupta is currently in custody and has been charged with murder-for-hire, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.

Czech authorities had arrested and detained Gupta on June 30, pursuant to the bilateral extradition treaty between the United States and the Czech Republic.

The Justice Department claimed that in or about May 2023, CC-1 (an Indian government official) allegedly recruited Gupta to orchestrate the assassination of the activist in the United States.

At CC-1’s direction, Gupta allegedly contacted an individual whom he believed to be a criminal associate, but who was in fact a confidential source working with the Drug Enforcement Administration, a United States federal law enforcement agency under the US Department of Justice.

The source, it is alleged, introduced Gupta to a purported hitman, who was a DEA undercover officer. The purported hitman was offered $100,000 to murder the separatist leader, the Justice Department claims.

The charges contained in the indictment are merely accusations, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

The unsealing of the indictment follows recent sharing of information by the US on a nexus between organised criminals, gun runners and terrorists.

India has since formed a high-level inquiry committee to address the security concerns highlighted by the US government. The Ministry of External Affairs said that “India takes such inputs seriously since they impinge on national security interests as well, and relevant departments were already examining the issue.”

The MEA added that in this context, on November 18, the Government of India constituted a high-level enquiry committee to investigate all the relevant aspects of the matter.

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