Haneef may haunt Australia

Australia must invest in building better relations with India

First, an aside: There was considerable media coverage and public interest in the saga of Dr Mohammed Haneef and the manner in which the Australian government handled the issue. Surely, this would have been important enough an issue for leading Indian television news channels to send intrepid reporters Down Under and thrust inquisitional microphones in front of Australian government officials? Your blogger does not watch television. But surprisingly, an informal survey of as many as a dozen young urban Indian professionals revealed that not one of them tuned in to TV news! (That may partly explain why Indian TV channels/newspapers did not have correspondents on the scene.)

“I don’t expect an apology from the Australian government or the authorities but I would appreciate if they apologise to my peace-loving country and citizens,” [Haneef] told a press conference here. [DNA India]

For most Indians, Australia is a country with a very good cricket team, albeit one that is notorious for sledging. But Haneef comes as a PR disaster for Australia’s image in India. Geopolitically, it is in Australia’s interests to deepen its relationship with India. Canberra’s failure to invest in institutional capacity to engage India—more than 15 years after India’s economic liberalisation—is the first hurdle. And unless the Howard government works to repair the damage to Australia’s image in India, it will find itself facing additional ones.

The Australian government was entirely within its rights to detain Haneef for questioning—but simple courtesy would require it to apologise (to him) for the error once it was clear that it had no case against him. No, it doesn’t have to be the Prime Minister that apologises; but surely, there must be someone in the Australian government who can say sorry to Haneef.

Updates: Churumuri, a fine blog, has breaking news on chat-room transcripts released by Australian authorities; commentary on the media frenzy and a reader poll on the question of apology

30 thoughts on “Haneef may haunt Australia”

  1. Nitin,

    Sorry for what, Nitin ? Is it for running him through the legal process ?

    Everyday thousands of people are acquitted by the courts for lack of evidence or a flimsy chargesheet. Should the governments apologize to everyone ? What about Vaiko and Pa Nedumaran who spent months in jail ?

    I am dismayed by the way the media got involved. Association with dangerous folks *almost always* invites minute scrutiny. Yes, even in India. Why the police get such extended custody of Monica Bedi ? Cant a girl have a boyfriend who likes to live on the edge ? I know its not a perfect analogy. The point is that if you live (or have lived) in the company of dangerous people, expect a thorough questioning to the maximum extent allowed by the law, including anti-terror legislation.

  2. RC,

    It’s clear that that the Australian authorities played hokey with the legal process. They tampered with evidence, released unsubstantiated reports of him planning to carry out attacks in Australia, cancelled his visa on the strength of allegations etc. It’s not that they ran him through the legal process and acquitted him after finding him innocent.

    The point here is not so much about Haneef, but what Australia has to do in its wake. The media has gotten involved, and there is a sense of outrage against Australia’s behaviour. If the Australian government does not move to contain the damage, it’s going to have downstream repercussions for Australia-India relations.

  3. First I must say I am a foreigner as well, not Australian, and I understand your view, but quite frankly the Australian government has nothing to apologize for. They are a sovereign country and they were doing what was the best to protect their interests and their people. And courtesy is not the point here, at all. They have laws and rights, they were used in the case.

    And are the Australians worried about Australia’s image in India after this episode? I do not know how India’s media is treating this case…but seriosuly, I don’t think so.

  4. Jose,

    It turns out that some Australians think that there is a case for apology:

    Meanwhile, Queensland Premier Peter Beattie has repeated his calls for an inquiry into Mr Andrews’ handling of the Haneef case.

    “It doesn’t matter what your view on these issues are, the whole thing has been handled appallingly,” Mr Beattie told the Seven Network today.

    “We all want to have a very strong position against terror – that’s one of the reasons why as a premier I signed up to these tough anti-terrorism laws – but we want to get the balance right and we didn’t get it right here.”

    Mr Beattie says Dr Haneef had been treated “appallingly”…

    Mr Beattie said if any inquiry went ahead and found there was nothing to hold against Dr Haneef, he should be given a formal apology.

    “You don’t put someone in detention for this period of time then not pursue the matter against him in the courts without some sort of … acknowledgement that a mistake was made,” he said.

    “That’s the least that we could do.” [SBS World News]

    And this stinging indictment by The Australian:

    Unlike in the case of self-confessed terror trainee David Hicks and immigration detainee Cornelia Rau, we think Dr Haneef has been harshly treated and that both the investigators and executive government have been too eager to put forward the worst case, regardless of the evidence.

    On Dr Haneef, the minister, like the AFP and the Director of Public Prosecutions, must ultimately admit that he made a mistake…But it is not possible to review Mr Andrews’ actions in dealing with Dr Haneef without feeling uneasy that they were guided by politics, rather than good policy. [The Australian]

  5. Nobody needs to apologize for protecting their best interests and their people, its what they do in the name of this that could take some apologizing, if it crossed the bounds of a legitimate investigation and due process.

    In the case of Haneef, the shackled & bundled black-out prisoner transport and solitary confinement are borderline violations (to my mind) of what constitutes due process – the cancellation of the visa a clear violation, and the steadfast refusal to admit error, the dismissive ‘stuff happens’ shrug an aggravating irritant that no way aligns with the protection of anybody’s best interests or their people.

    And there is a question of parity and what the Oz govt would do for some other country handling its citizens this way.

    Finally though, while it would help Australia to issue some sort of apology, I would recommend that we dont make too much of an issue of this, beyond registering our protest. Threatening additional hurdles, and an extended diplomatic flap may eventually help the Howard Govt and weaken those Aussies that are opposed to his politics.


  6. Jai,

    The Howard government is pro-India, and the opposition Labor party is seen as being exclusively pro-China. As I point out (see the link to Greg Sheridan’s opinion piece), Australia does not have enough India experts in its policy establishment. This is a potential hurdle in improving relations with India.

    Also, while I don’t think the outrage in India will erupt into public anger, it will certainly have repercussions. But I disagree with you on the diplomatic utility of ‘flaps’; India tends to underestimate the value of deliberate irrationalism.

  7. I am not sure why Howard should apologize to India? Was the indictment against all her people? Or was the doctor representing all Indians? Surely an apology can be given (and I am sure was given when he was, apparently honourably, let go) to the doctor and his family because they suffered mental anguish. The rest, editorials and other debates, is internal Australian debate that has little baring on India or it’s people.

    Also is that all it’ll takes to make India angry? How about extending a friendly hand to a country that has been terrorizing people for almost two decades and this other country that wants large parts of the country? Aren’t we supposed to be bhai-bhai with them as if nothing happened? Somehow, I think, it’ll take a lot more to wake up drowsing citizens and their gutless leaders.

  8. I thank Australia for atleast showing some spine… If it were India, he might have been let off, lest it offend the minorities (whether he is guilty or not). The media would be having a field day showing his baby face and crying parents and relatives, dug up some of his school friends who would invariably say that he was secular and peaceful and that they cant believe Haneef is a terrorist.

    Guilty-by-association is something that does not apply equally to everyone.

    By the way, why isnt anyone talking about Sabeel and Kafeel, the two other terrorists. It seems like the Glasgow bombings never happened, and that the Aussies are racist who like to trouble Indians. Aquittal of Haneef does not dilute the incident, nor does it strengthen or weaken secularism. Glasgow attack was an out and out islamic terrorist act, haneef guilty or not.

  9. I think Nitin makes a fair point on Haneef as an “individual” deserving an apology if indeed he was not given due legal process. Now one may argue that this may be an everyday affair and should Governments go about apologizing for every single lapse on their part. Fair enough, it depends on what is in that Government’s interest. As Nitin argues it is in Australia’s interest if it wants to continue to attract Indian students and Indian Professionals to win the P.R. war here. If a personal apology to Haneef helps win that war, why not.

    On the other hand as an Indian do I care if Australia apologizes no I dont. As a State Government should we be offering him a job , no we should not. Haneef’s decision to work in Australia was his personal decision, which he should have made weighing the pros and cons of the Judicial and Political System that he was subjecting himself to. So he alone has responsibility for the consequences of his actions. The Governments of Karnataka and India have no business trying to get on the good side of Haneef, that is Muslim Appeasement.

    All in all the Haneef episode has garnered far more P.R. than any wrongfully accussed person in a country where there are a thousand more Haneef’s still languishing in jails as pointed out by Ninad. He must thank his stars and move on in life.

  10. Haneef has been in the media limelight for more time than any of his cousins and actual conspirators have been. What does this tell about our media?

    He was welcomed at Bangalore Airport and then given a personal welcome by the Chief Minister of Karnataka who also offered him a job at a local hospital. Now, the question that comes to my mind is WHAT has this GUY done to deserve such allocades.

    We Indians are dismayed at seeing him being treated like that in Australia, but how do we ourself treat those who are accused – Third Degree methods. Isolation can no way be equated with the methods our Police force uses to get out the truth.

    With regard to Australia bending the laws to keep him grounded, well, since he was trying to escape when caught, why should they trust him.


  11. By the way, does anyone remember a certain Dr.Binayak Sen who was arrested in Chattisgarh and being held for over a month now?


  12. Shadows,

    What’s there to say about Kafeel and Sabeel? They’re guilty of terrorism and are facing the consequences in Britain. I couldn’t care less about Haneef, if at all the Australians had a case against him (which is not the same as Haneef actually being proven guilty). But the Australians don’t have a case, and on the contrary seem to be trying to frame him to save their political skins. That’s not being ‘tough on terror’. That’s cheating.

    So don’t let Kafeel & Sabeel’s guilt rub off on Haneef. Those who can’t make this simple moral distinction can’t be taken seriously when they try and make more profound ones.

    Prashanth and Yossarin,

    Oh sure, our politicians have not lost an opportunity for a photo opportunity with a ‘celebrity’…While condemning their largesse, I’d say this is par for the course. I think they gave cash and made promises just because a boy fell into a well. Lots of kids have accidents, but this guy was lucky enough to be on TV.

  13. Asking Australia to apologize for violating the due process rights of an Indian national is like Jenna Jameson [a famous adult movie star – so i have heard] accusing Mother Teresa of indecent exposure.

    p.s. i read this morning that the good doctor would much rather go back to work for the australian hospital than live amongst “peace loving” indians.

  14. Not sure how apology is going to help improve Australia’s image in India. But it will certainly help Haneef to get Visa to a different country / Australia itself and his ambition of serving only in abroad. No Australia bound Indian is going to stop his travel because of Haneef (who got into trouble because of his foolishness).

    Who knows, Australia might be banking on our Indian mentality of forgiving (forgetting)..

  15. Nitin: agree completely. The Aussies’ hard-ass attitude is not serving them well in this case.

    Anuj: i read this morning that the good doctor would much rather go back to work for the australian hospital than live amongst “peace loving” indians.
    It’s the moolah. He probably makes a lot more there than in India. Haneef reportedly made $200K (AUD not USD) for his first interview. Don’t think Zee, Sony and friends are paying that kind of moolah. I see no reason for him to not cash in on his celebrity. Also he should be suing the pants off of the Aussie Federal Police and Andrews in particular, for wrongful imprisonment, mental torture and bungled process.

  16. Libertairan – Yes, I agree, He should do whatever he pleases. However, The Govt. of India should stay out of this matter.

  17. Nitin,

    In my view, the Australian government owes an apology (and much else) only if they have doctored evidence; allegations which are later proven to be false simply don’t fall in the same category. And I don’t think in this case the Australian authorities have doctored evidence. Even in the case of his diaries, Haneef later admitted that he had made those entries.

    Realism dictates that Australian government should apologize for better Indian-Austrlian relations especially since Indians make every thing an issue of national pride, but they are certainly not obliged too.

  18. Nitin,

    I agree Australian govt needs to apologize to Haneef. But I can’t see this happening because this whole farce was in part because of the impending elections there. As for India-Aus relations, I don’t think there is much love already, in view of Australia’s unfavorable position on Uranium.

  19. Australia to move on uranium sales to India soon

    This is a far more important development for the Indo-Australian relations, than an apology from the Aussie government. Also, my recollection is that the AFP Inspector/Official, involved in the Haneef case has already tendered an apology to him [I think it was during a press conference after all the charges were withdrawn]. For the Indian government to get involved any further in this matter risks a blowback, in similar situations that the GOI may find itself embroiled.

    These are dangerous times for democratic states around the world. Evidence in matters such as this difficult to garner, and the process by its very nature is prone to errors and mishandling. Full disclosure of information that may appear to be in the public interest, may not serve the interest of the public (domestic and foreign if the information were made public too soon, as an earlier post in this blog, “The secrecy around the 123 agreement”, has suggested. Speculation about conspiracy, racism, etc., is just that; in the end, it may be nothing more than a stupid blunder on the part of a field office.

    Btw, there were media reports, both in India and Australia, of Haneef’s involvement with SIMI. Has there been any further development in this story or did it also turn out to be a red herring?

  20. INvalid & Rational Fool,

    There’s no doubt that Australia is an important country insofar as supply of fuel is concerned. But that does not automatically mean that it needs to be ‘popular’, whereby there is strong public support for building deeper relations. Our current suppliers of fossil fuels are a case in point.

    And the fuel supply relationship is important to Australia too, and they are coming around to realising it.

  21. Still, I don’t see any need for Australia to apologize to Haneef. Note that they say still there are some investigations going on.
    It is good for India to keep quiet until their investigations are over else we may find ourselves in an embarrassing situation if the investigation shows traces of Haneef’s involvement.

  22. Nitin,

    My point was about why the undue media coverage to Haneef.. and even being covered on this blog !! Maybe I did not put it so correctly, I admit I did mix up .. you may delete that comment.


    Times of India today carries an article that says that Australia still suspects Haneef, but let him go because maybe they do not have “clinching” evidence.. Maybe they let him go to avoid diplomatic repurcussions.. and thats enough, they would take it as an insult (rightly so) if forced to apologize to haneef. They must have been led to think that its an issue in India, going by Indian media reports, and so they released him. (link)

    from the article –

    ” some of the police evidence against Mohammed Haneef that persuaded him to revoke the 27-year-old doctor’s work visa. ”


    “Citing police evidence, Andrews said that on the day Haneef attempted to leave Australia, he was told by one of his brothers in India in an Internet chat room: “Nothing has been found out about you.”
    The brother, whose name was not immediately available, told Haneef to leave Australia that day, Andrews said. ”

    Highly suspicious, isnt it?

    Also jehadi material has been found on his computer.

    Haneef knew about the terror plot, though he did not commit the crime himself. So does that count as involvement?

    A very similar case is Sanjay Dutt, except that Sanjay has been sent to jail. He did not commit the 1993 bombay blasts, but he still was convicted. Well, there must be evidence against Sanjay. How fine is the line dividing involvement and non-involvement.. that is up to the law and prosecution’s case, but still…

    A certain Mr Jain of Polaris software India was arrested in Malaysia few years ago because his company delayed delivery of software to a client (and such things are generally covered in the contract, there is a fine deducted). It did not cause such ripples in the media , govt circles or anywhere, except in IT chat rooms..

  23. Shadows,

    Australian prosecutors knew all that and yet decided they had nothing to charge him with. Whatever you decide to conclude from media reports of partially released information, the objective fact is that the government of Australia decided that it did not have enough to charge him with anything. Objective fact is also that British authorities are holding Sabeel and Kafeel on terrorism charges. It’s good practice to believe in objective facts.

    You’ve got to check your facts again on Sanjay Dutt. He was charged with possession of illegal weapons under the arms act, not for carrying out the Bombay blasts. There’s no fine line there. It’s clear. He’s been punished for his crime.

  24. @shadows:

    A certain Mr Jain of Polaris software India was arrested in Malaysia few years ago because his company delayed delivery of software to a client (and such things are generally covered in the contract, there is a fine deducted). It did not cause such ripples in the media , govt circles or anywhere, except in IT chat rooms..

    A reminder, if any was needed, that public memory is hopelessly short-term.

    This was covered extensively in the media.

    Also, it was quite a diplomatic crisis.

  25. Nitin,

    Your point on objective facts taken. I was quoting the newspaper report. I just quoted a few lines from it, the full article has more details. Somehow, I wouldnt trust someone keeping a diskfull of jehadi material, but thats for later.

    The sadder conclusion is that if Sanjay Dutt were involved in the blasts but had not possessed firearms illegally, he would be roaming scot-free.


    The magnitude, the hype… Insult to Haneef (possibly terrorist) seems like a bigger issue than insult to Arun Jain (who obviously did not intentionally delay software delivery). Somehow it just doesnt seem right. Its not just about haneef guilty or not, its the whole tamasha of secularism that is going on..

  26. IANS reported today:

    [Kumaraswamy ] reiterated his government’s readiness to help Haneef in whatever way possible in the state assembly Tuesday in response to opposition Congress demand that the state bear the doctor’s legal expenses.

    Before Kumaraswamy extended support to him, the city police had said they intended to question him notwithstanding the fact that the Australian police had dropped the charges.

    The chief minister’s action has ‘certainly placed the police in a difficult situation’, a senior city police official said.

    Was Dr. Haneef an Indian mole on a spy mission in the UK and Australia? Why should the tax-payers foot an ordinary India citizen’s legal expenses in the host country, where he was on strictly private business? If a Bangalorean student in the US were accused of rape, and later acquitted for lack of evidence, would Mr. Kumaraswamy agree to foot his legal bills?

    When Dr. Haneef has not been cleared by the Bangalore police, how could the Chief Minister endorse him for a government job, that too in a hospital? Not only that this Haneef episode is rapidly assuming ridiculous proportions, but such political interference in highly sensitive intelligence matters puts the national security in jeopardy also.

  27. Madani let off free too. Nitin, do you think he was innocent, like Haneef ? Offstumped as a post on the topic.. he obviously doesnt think so. Arent there many parallels between the two cases?

  28. @shadows: The hype is a whole different issue, and there are lots of factors to explain the hype. But you should not confuse “less hype” with “less action by the govt” (as your previous comment did). Nitin has posted about this earlier in the context of the plight of Indian workers in West Asia. The media gives no attention whatsoever to their issues, but the Govt. gives them as much Consular help as it does to anyone else (probably more, considering that the workers are poor and uneducated, unlike Arun Jain and Haneef).

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