July 31, 2007Foreign Affairs

Haneef may haunt Australia

Australia must invest in building better relations with India

This is an archived blog post from The Acorn.

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

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