US Blocks Drone Delivery to India Amidst Assassination Conspiracy InvestigationJanuary 31, 2024
The United States government has withheld the delivery of 31 MQ-9A Sea Guardian and Sky Guardian drones to India, demanding a “meaningful investigation” into an alleged conspiracy to assassinate Sikh leader Gurpatwant Singh Pannun. Pannun, a New York-based activist associated with the Khalistan movement, advocates for an independent Sikh homeland by separating Punjab from India and holds dual US and Canadian citizenship.
According to reports, the proposed $3 billion drone purchase includes 15 Sea Guardian drones for the Indian Navy, with the Indian Air Force and Army slated to receive eight Sky Guardian drones each. Additionally, smaller acquisitions, such as the proposal to buy six Boeing P-8I long-range maritime patrol aircraft, have also been put on hold. These aircraft were intended to supplement the 12 P-8I Poseidon aircraft already operated by the Indian Navy.
The delay in the drone procurement, as reported by The Wire, stems from the conspiracy to assassinate Pannun, which allegedly involved an Indian security official named CC1, according to a federal indictment publicly disclosed in November. Intriguingly, the internal approval for the drone purchase by the Indian Ministry of Defence occurred in June 2023, just a week before Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s state visit to Washington. This period also coincided with the acceleration of the assassination plot against Pannun.
The Wire quotes a Washington-based source stating that the purchase is now stalled in the US Congress due to anger over the audacious attempt to assassinate Pannun, with representatives freezing the legislative process necessary for proceeding with the sale.
Explaining the delay, the source highlights the deep concern of Indian-American lawmakers, particularly regarding the fallout from the indictment of Nikhil Gupta, an Indian charged with conspiring to kill Pannun. Gupta, currently detained in the Czech Republic awaiting deportation to the US, was arrested on June 30 at the request of American authorities. US federal prosecutors allege that Gupta pledged $100,000 to an FBI agent posing as a hitman to carry out the assassination in New York. On November 29, Gupta was formally charged with murder-for-hire, carrying a potential 10-year prison sentence, and conspiracy to commit murder-for-hire, which also carries a maximum 10-year jail term.
To conclude, the US government’s decision to withhold drone deliveries to India underscores the seriousness with which it views the conspiracy to assassinate Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, adding complexity to diplomatic relations between the two nations. The fallout from this incident has extended to the legislative realm, affecting defense acquisitions and raising concerns among Indian-American lawmakers about the implications of the alleged assassination plot.