NEW DELHI — The diplomatic row between India and Canada over the killing of a Sikh separatist is “not affecting” military ties between the two countries, a top Canadian general told Nikkei Asia in New Delhi on Tuesday.

“This is an issue between both of our countries at the political level,” said Maj. Gen. Peter Scott, deputy commander of the Canadian Army. He said that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had explained the issue in parliament and is “requesting India’s cooperation in the independent investigation that’s currently ongoing.”

“But between both of our armies, this is not affecting us,” Scott said, speaking on the sidelines of a conference of Indo-Pacific army chiefs in the Indian capital, attended by over 30 countries.

Scott’s comments came about a week after Trudeau’s explosive announcement of “credible allegations” that Indian agents were behind the shooting of Hardeep Singh Nijjar in British Columbia in June. New Delhi called Trudeau’s suggestion “absurd.”

The India-born Nijjar, who was declared a “designated terrorist” by New Delhi and who had advocated splitting off Indian territory to create a Sikh homeland known as Khalistan, was gunned down by unidentified attackers outside his temple.

“I spoke to [India’s] commander of the army last night,” Scott said. “We both agreed that this is a political issue and has no interference in our relationship as two armies as we look for opportunities — among the other 30 nations that are currently participating in this conference — to find areas where we can cooperate, train together and conduct exercises and operations so that we can all contribute to ensuring peace and stability within the region.”

Maj. Gen. Peter Scott, deputy commander of the Canadian Army, speaks with Nikkei Asia in New Delhi on Sept. 26. (Photo by Kiran Sharma)

The dispute over Nijjar’s killing has severely disrupted bilateral relations. India and Canada have each expelled one of the other’s diplomats, while India has suspended issuing visas to Canadians worldwide. India has urged its nationals in Canada to exercise “utmost caution,” while Canada more recently updated its travel guidance: “In the context of recent developments in Canada and in India, there are calls for protests and some negative sentiment towards Canada on social media. Please remain vigilant and exercise caution.”

Nevertheless, Scott said that to “the best of my knowledge at this time” the diplomatic row over Nijjar’s killing “is not going to have an impact” on the two armies.

“We will leave the matter at hand to our political level,” he said, adding that he preferred to focus on forums like the New Delhi meeting to “find like-minded solutions to difficulties facing a lot of Indo-Pacific nations.”

“We are happy to be here, and we don’t see the issue clouding matters at this point of time at all,” he said.

On the overall situation in the Indo-Pacific, amid what many consider China’s aggressive posturing in the region, Scott noted that Canada recently published an Indo-Pacific strategy that aims to contribute in a variety of ways — diplomatic, militarily and economically. The goal, he said, is to work with others to make sure the region remains “open, safe, secure and prosperous, so that all nations of the Indo-Pacific region can maintain their sovereignty and enjoy a peaceful way of life.”

The Canadian Indo-Pacific strategy Scott referred to reserves a key role for the country with which Ottawa is now at loggerheads.

“India’s growing strategic, economic and demographic importance in the Indo-Pacific makes it a critical partner in Canada’s pursuit of its objectives under this strategy,” the document states. “Canada and India have a shared tradition of democracy and pluralism, a common commitment to a rules-based international system and multilateralism, mutual interest in expanding our commercial relationship and extensive and growing people-to-people connections.”

Despite their differences, Scott suggested Canada and India have similar roles — to contribute with like-minded nations and uphold a rules-based order.

“That’s how they are doing it by hosting this conference and bringing all these nations together,” he said.

The conference co-hosted by India and the U.S., which formally opened on Tuesday, runs until Wednesday.

Addressing the opening ceremony, Indian Defense Minister Rajnath Singh said that the Indo-Pacific region has emerged as “a pivotal geopolitical and strategic concept in recent years.”

“India has always stood for a free, open, inclusive and rules-based Indo-Pacific region, in the pursuit of shared security and prosperity,” he said, adding that the South Asian nation’s efforts to build robust military partnerships with friendly countries underscore its commitment to not only safeguarding its own national interests but also to “addressing important global challenges being faced by all of us.”

The New Delhi conference provides an opportunity for army chiefs and senior-level leaders of land forces across the region to exchange ideas and views. Separately, Indian Army chief Gen. Manoj Pande and the U.S. Army’s chief of staff, Gen. Randy George — co-hosts of the conclave — addressed a joint news conference.

“The symposium serves as a shining example of what can be achieved when nations come together with a common purpose,” Pande said.

India is hosting the event because of its “leadership role” in the region, George said, noting this year’s meeting is the biggest yet. The partnership between the U.S. and Indian armies, he said, “is vital for stability in the region,” adding that the relationship “is strong and growing stronger.”

Neither general spoke about the India-Canada dispute, which did not come up before the short news conference ended.

Asked whether the construct of the Indo-Pacific Army Chiefs’ Conference could come into play in responding to future territorial aggression, Pande said that the participants “are not looking at a military alliance so to speak. … This entire exercise initiative is not directed against any country or any group of countries.”

Pande said the chiefs seek to understand different perspectives, share best practices and come up with “a good, effective response to crisis situations, such as in case of natural as well as man-made disasters, and to see … how we can respond to such situations in a more effective and timely manner.