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Canada says India was involved in Sikh leader's death. Allies haven't condemned India

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he will not release evidence into the killing of a Sikh activist allegedly by India. New Delhi calls the allegations absurd. The Biden administration on Thursday said it's been in touch with both countries, but some in Canada say the initial response from Ottawa's closest ally has been halfhearted. Here's NPR international affairs correspondent Jackie Northam.

JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: One of the questions in this saga is why did Prime Minister Trudeau make such a public accusation against India? One theory is that India's possible role in the extrajudicial killing was about to be exposed by Canadian media. Despite the explosive nature of the accusation, however, the initial response by the U.S. was lukewarm. Here's National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby.

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JOHN KIRBY: Let the facts take the investigators where they may, and then we can talk about conclusions and findings. So I just - I don't want to get ahead of that.

NORTHAM: Kirby then went on to call India a strategic partner. Other allies also declined to condemn or question India's possible role in the killing. In its response, the U.K. talked about trade relations with the South Asian nation. Stephanie Carvin, a professor of international relations at Ottawa's Carleton University, says the allies are being careful to not preemptively throw relations with India into a tailspin.

STEPHANIE CARVIN: Canada's allies have all been wooing India as a way to perhaps balance China in the Indo-Pacific. So the fact that they would be muted in their criticism is not that surprising, if somewhat disappointing, I think, for Canada.

NORTHAM: Carvin points out that none of the allies has disputed the accusation. Still, it's difficult to escape the image that Trudeau was out there by himself with little backing. Xavi Delgado is with the Canada Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

XAVIER DELGADO: It certainly does feel like Canada has taken an enormous risk here. I think the allies are just going to be cautious until Canada is able to provide clear and convincing evidence linking the Indian government to this killing.

NORTHAM: Roland Paris is a professor of international affairs at the University of Ottawa and a former senior adviser to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. He says it's unfortunate that the U.S. isn't more strongly supporting its closest ally.

ROLAND PARIS: Canada has come to the assistance of the United States many times in the past, and there's no question that if it appeared that an American had been killed in a political assassination on American soil by a foreign government, that the Canadian government and frankly the Canadian people would be just as outraged as the United States was.

NORTHAM: The administration rejected criticism that there's a wedge between the U.S. and Canada over the killing. Carleton University's Carvin says it's likely there has been evidence-sharing between the two countries, as well as Canada's other closest intelligence-gathering allies, known as the Five Eyes.

CARVIN: It does appear that the Trudeau government did spend the summer talking with Canada's allies. Perhaps they were seeking corroborating information that they may have as part of the Five Eyes alliance and perhaps discussing ideas on what should actually be done. You don't just kind of spring this announcement on your allies, especially when they have a lot at stake in the Indo-Pacific.

NORTHAM: University of Ottawa's Paris says this episode is a wake-up call to countries that are also courting India as a strategic partner in Indo-Pacific.

PARIS: If in fact the Indian government is connected to this killing, then I think a lot of countries will be wondering whether the same kind of thing can happen on their own soil.

NORTHAM: So there's a clear risk for India as well, says Delgado.

DELGADO: Which is that the allegations, which again have not been proven yet, but the fact that they have been made - India's trust as an ally and partner is being called into question here.

NORTHAM: In other words, no one gains from this episode.

Jackie Northam, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Jackie Northam is NPR's International Affairs Correspondent. She is a veteran journalist who has spent three decades reporting on conflict, geopolitics, and life across the globe - from the mountains of Afghanistan and the desert sands of Saudi Arabia, to the gritty prison camp at Guantanamo Bay and the pristine beauty of the Arctic.