Op-ed: Canada and India must forge a strong alliance
In an op-ed piece in The Toronto Star, Vijay Sappani makes the case for a strong alliance between Canada and India.
2020 has been challenging for Canada, having failed in its bid for a seat on the UN Security Council, facing coercion from China, and more. But commensurate with challenges are new opportunities. Nowhere is this more true than with India.
Canada and India are both democracies with all the ingredients to be durable global partners. So why has this bilateral relationship been historically weak?
Since the mid-1970s a series of events deteriorated trust and have impacted bilateral relations for decades. Key among them is the Pakistan-backed Khalistan separatist movement in Canada and its support among some Canadian politicians. The Air India bombing of 1985 also casts a gloomy shadow on Canada-India relations.
Today, 35 years after the Air India terror attack and 10 years after the release of the Justice John Major Report, the level of security co-operation between these two democracies remains abysmal. Decades of mistrust must now be put aside in order to improve bilateral security relationship, which will pave the way for improved trust and engagement.
A recent olive branch from Ottawa is a good first step. The Canadian government declared it will not recognize a referendum called by Khalistani separatist groups.
But both countries need to do much more to bring the bilateral relationship to a point where they regard each other as natural allies. A National Security Advisor-level dialogue was initiated by the Harper government and continues to this day.
It now needs to deliver something more meaningful, with a focus on deeper institutional-level collaboration on bilateral, regional, and global security issues. The Canada-India Joint Working Group on Counterterrorism also shows the importance both countries attach to addressing terrorism.
As a confidence-building measure, Canada must address the issue of Pakistan-backed Khalistani separatists.
Canada and India should work co-operatively to counter the threat posed by China, and this is most true at sea. Joint patrols and expanded naval exercises in Indo-Pacific waters should be a priority; this should include not only India but other members of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue. Further and deeper co-operation in defence is needed. Canada should expand joint ventures with our NATO allies to support India in high altitude warfare, which would improve its ability to counter terrorists from its west and China’s belligerence in the east.
Canada and India need to strengthen institutional, people-to-people, and parliamentary relations. The lack of a Canada-India Parliamentary Association hampers a reliable and robust vehicle to build relations between members of Parliament of both countries.
Canada and India share values of freedom, justice, human rights, commitment to the rule of law, and a Westminster-style parliamentary system. We can have one of the strongest people-to-people bonds. In a new world order where the threat of China’s economic might is acutely palpable, it is time to break from the shackles of the past and build a relationship that will cement our status as natural allies.
Vijay Sappani is a board member of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute and several Indo-Canadian institutions.