Canada updates India travel advice with warnings of ‘landmines, terror’ in apparent retaliation

File Prime minister Justin Trudeau, his wife Sophie Gregoire and their children pose for a photograph during their visit to Taj Mahal in Agra on 18 February 2018 (AFP via Getty Images)
File Prime minister Justin Trudeau, his wife Sophie Gregoire and their children pose for a photograph during their visit to Taj Mahal in Agra on 18 February 2018 (AFP via Getty Images)

Canada has urged its citizens to “avoid all travel” to Indian regions within 10km of the border with neighbouring Pakistan, citing the “presence of landmines and unexploded ordnance”.

The travel advisory, updated on Wednesday by the Canadian government, urges its citizens to “exercise a high degree of caution” due to the “threat of terrorist attacks throughout the country”.

The travel advisory comes days after the Indian government urged its own nationals and students visiting Canada to “exercise due caution and remain vigilant” amid a “sharp increase” in hate crimes and sectarian violence there.

Along with the advisory, the Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government issued its sharpest statement yet over what it calls “anti-India activities” originating from Canada over the recent Khalistan movement-related activities in Ottawa.

The Canadian government’s advisory asked its citizens not to travel to the states of Punjab, Rajasthan, Gujarat, and as well as the federal territory of Jammu and Kashmir.

“Avoid all travel to the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir due to the unpredictable security situation. There is a threat of terrorism, militancy, civil unrest and kidnappings,” it said, excluding travel to the union territory of Ladakh.

It prohibited travel to Punjab, Rajasthan, and Gujarat due to the “unpredictable security situation” and presence of landmines and unexploded ordnance.

It added the “level of tension between India and Pakistan may change suddenly” and people travelling between the two countries may be subject to scrutiny if officials from either country after becoming aware that they have recently travelled to the other.

The Canadian government said the tourist destination of Jammu and Kashmir has “high risks of violent protests, civil unrest and acts of terrorism and militancy”.

“Violent clashes between militants and security forces occur regularly. Terrorist attacks against security forces have led to civilian casualties. Further attacks could take place at any time. You could find yourself in the wrong place at the wrong time,” it added.

Issuing a warning for more states, it urged people to avoid non-essential travel to the northeastern states of Assam and Manipur due to “ethnic tensions in the state” amid presence of extremist and insurgent groups.

The move has been dubbed as a “bizarre” and “embarrassing” tit-for-tat attempt by the Justin Trudeau government by Indian media and some people on social media.

“The Canadians can’t be serious! I’m getting real doubts about whether the Canadian Govt is really mature. After India, Canada issues advisory to its citizens in India over ‘landmines’,” Mandeep Singh Bajwa, a national security and strategic affairs analyst, said on Twitter.

Indian news agency ANI called it a “bizarre travel advisory” in a report carried by major news outlets in the country.

The Canadian government also updated the advisory to Pakistan and warned against travel to an area within 50km of the border with Afghanistan and the areas within 10km of the borders with China, India and Iran.

It cited bombings, shootings and other terrorist attacks as threats to people travelling but did not mention landmines and unexploded ordnance which have been added to India’s advisory.

While India and Canada have long-standing relations, the Khalistan campaign — a movement by Sikhs based abroad to demand a separate land by ”annexing” Punjab from India — has become a sore point with Delhi often taking objection to “anti-India activities”.