P.S. Suryanarayana

“A positive conversation” with Pranab

SINGAPORE: Acknowledging India’s “natural concern” in the Haneef case, Australia’s Foreign Minister Alexander Downer on Friday said, “We [Australians] owe it to the Indians to keep them informed as to what is going on.”

Referring to the telephonic conversation between him and External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee on Thursday, he said Canberra would certainly continue to keep New Delhi posted on the developments in the case.

Terror prisoner

Brisbane-based Indian doctor Mohammed Haneef, now in a solitary cell as a “terror prisoner,” awaits the Federal Court hearing on August 8 on his appeal against the revocation of his work visa. A committal hearing before a Magistrate’s Court will then follow on charges linking him to the recent terror plots in London and Glasgow.

In comments, full transcript of which was made available to The Hindu by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Mr. Downer did not categorically indicate whether Australia would fully engage India on the case by going beyond informing India on the course of relevant events.

It was a “good and a positive conversation,” Mr. Downer said on the Thursday’s telephonic talk: “The Indians are naturally concerned about one of their own citizens, as we would be in their situation if it were an Australian involved in India.”

While noting that the case had become “quite a big issue” in the media in both Australia and India, he said Mr. Mukherjee “was pretty well-informed about the facts” in focus.

It is independently understood, without reference to these comments by Mr. Downer, that the two leaders had “a substantive and businesslike conversation.”

Mr. Downer emphasised that Australia and India had agreed to “accelerate” the ongoing negotiations to clinch not only a mutual legal assistance pact, as indicated in New Delhi on Thursday, but also an extradition treaty.

“Tread carefully”

Queensland Premier Peter Beattie on Friday called upon the Australian federal authorities to be “careful” in proceeding further in the case against Dr. Haneef.

His comment came amid growing criticism from the Australian legal fraternity about the handling of the case by the federal police, the Director of Public Prosecutions and Australian Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews.

The Queensland Premier is also understood to have called upon the federal authorities to come clean and explain the circumstances in which Dr. Haneef had been charged with intentionally providing material support to a terrorist organisation.

It was alleged that he had links to two suspects in the recent terror plots in the United Kingdom.

Mounting criticism

The criticism against the federal authorities in Australia reached a crescendo on Friday, when it was reported from the U.K. that the SIM card in question was not actually found at the site of the failed terrorist attack at the Glasgow airport, contrary to the version believed to have been relied on by the prosecution in Dr. Haneef’s case.

Peter Faris, generally regarded to be a supporter of robust anti-terror laws, said the prosecution case might “collapse” if the SIM card in question were to be of no material significance to the relevant terror plots in the U.K.

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