Out of bounds

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Canadian High Commission’s refusal to issue visas to some, serving and retired, personnel of the Indian security grid on the grounds of human rights violations, has irked New Delhi and raised a furore. Iftikhar Gilani reports.
Sixteen years later, the custodial killing of noted lawyer Jalil Andrabi is haunting entire Indian security establishment. Following a Srinagar court last year issuing a red corner arrest warrant against Major Avtar Singh, the army official accused in the custodial killing and now hiding in Canada, the North American country is treading cautiously on issuing visas to security officers having served in Kashmir. The relatives of the slain activist lawyer believe that New Delhi facilitated Singh’s migration to Canada by issuing him a fake passport – a reflection on the Delhi based Canadian High Commission as well, that had issued him a visa.
Chief Judicial Magistrate (CJM) Srinagar, Mohammed Ibrahim Wani had even directed the Ministry of Home affairs to forward the arrest warrant to Interpol through its office in New Delhi. A Special Investigation Team (SIT) of police constituted by the state government to probe Jaleel Andrabi’s killing had disclosed in its April 1997 report that Major Avtar Singh of 103 TA stationed at Rawalpora camp was involved in his killing.
“Jaleel Andrabi’s arrest was arranged through Sikander Ganie, a gunman working for the army. The renegade was later eliminated under mysterious circumstances,” the SIT had disclosed. The special police team had also indicted the army officer in the “cold blooded murder” of eight other non-combatants.
A division bench of the state High Court had subsequently directed the SIT to nab the officer so that he can be brought to justice. Orders for impounding his passport were issued and a bar was imposed on his travel abroad.
Canadian actions have come as a rude shock for entire Indian establishment. Union Home Ministry gave Canada a week to take corrective action on repeated denial of visa to serving and retired Indian government officers. External Affairs Minister SM Krishna described Canadian actions as unacceptable. “India is a democracy. All institutions function under our constitution. We are proud of our security forces and agencies and the services rendered by them to the nation. We expect the Canadian authorities to address the situation appropriately,” he told reporters.
Accusing the Canadian High Commission here of discrimination, the external affairs ministry has already objected to “spurious and insulting” grounds cited for denial of visa, accusing the aggrieved officers of human right violation and acts of terrorism.
In the latest episode, even a member of the Prime Minister’s advance security liaison team of the Special Protection Group (SPG) that provides him round-the-clock security was initially denied visa. The PM is scheduled to visit Canada in late June to attend the G-20 summit.
The external affairs ministry sources say these are not isolated incidents as a lot of government officers, particularly those serving in the Indian military and security forces, have been refused visa on similar grounds.
The High Commission, however, quote a 2008 Act enacted by its parliament that contemplates denial of visa to anybody who has worked for any organisation guilty of human rights violations. For instance, retired IB officer S S Sidhu was denied the visa on security grounds that included the person being a danger to security of Canada and its people, being a member of the organisation that engages in espionage, terrorism and subversive activities.
In the case of a retired Intelligence Bureau (IB) officer T S Saroya, Canadian High Commission commented that he was “undesirable” since his organisation engaged in “violence, espionage and terrorism.” Saroya, who retired as deputy central intelligence officer(DCIO) from IB in Jalandhar three years ago after putting in 36 years of service, was denied a visitor visa under section A34(1)(F) of Canada’s Immigrations and Refugee Protection Act in 2008. It is another matter that he later applied for an U.S. visa and got it promptly, that too a multiple entry visa.
Even his wife Sudarshan Kaur wanting a Canadian visa last year to see an ailing 2-year-old kin was refused on the ground that she is spouse of an Indian intelligence officer who had already been declined visa earlier.
Saroya, who has served the IB in Gujarat, Punjab and Delhi, said his visa was not only refused by the High Commission in India but also by the Canadian consulate in Seattle. While visiting the United States last year, he applied for a two-day visitor visa to visit Vancouver to see his ailing mother-in-law, a Canadian resident for 30 years, but it was denied on the same grounds.
He contested refusal of visa to him, pointing out that Canada too had an intelligence agency similar to IB but India never refused visa to its officials. “Is it a crime or sin for a Canadian national or an Indian national to work in security intelligence agencies of their respective countries,” he asked.
Saroya said he had stressed in his rejoinder: “It is a national duty and nationals of all countries will continue to perform such duties with pride and honour so long nations, including Canada and India, exist. Therefore, personnel performing such legitimate duties cannot be denied visits abroad on specious grounds mentioned by you in your letter of July 16, 2008.”
The retired officer said he was so far contesting the high-handedness of the Canadian authorities on his own, but felt he should also speak out after the media reports about similar treatment meted out to his erstwhile colleague S S Sidhu, retired Lt Generals A S Bahia and O P Nandrajog and retired BSF head constable Fateh Singh Pandher.
He said his argument that IB is a counterpart of Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) and mandate of both the agencies are similar, fell on deaf ears on the Canadian High Commission officials who interviewed him here. He had wanted to visit Canada in August 2007 to attend the marriage of his niece.
Citing information about CSIS gathered from open sources to drive home the point that mandate of both Canadian and Indian intelligence agencies is the similar, Saroya had told the Canadian authorities here in writing that the grounds on which he was denied admission into their country could be easily thrown at a Canadian national to deny entry by any sovereign government. “Most sovereign governments have similar laws cited by you to deny me admission to Canada,” he wrote.
Saroya said both CSIS and IB perform the same function for their respective federal governments; both are “defensive, domestic security intelligence services.” Also like CSIS, he said IB does not have any mandate to conduct foreign intelligence operations outside India. Like CSIS, IB does not have law enforcement powers. All law enforcement functions are the responsibility of police in India like in Canada.
Moreover, he said like CSIS, IB remains under the close control of the Indian federal government and like CSIS, IB also provides advance warning to government departments and agencies about activities which may reasonably be suspected of constituting threats to India’s security. Also, like CSIS, IB uses a variety of collection methods to monitor individuals or groups whose activities are suspected of constituting a threat to national security of India. Like CSIS, IB is tasked with monitoring and identifying individuals with suspected connections to terrorism and persons operating in India on behalf of hostile intelligence services.
“Like CSIS, IB also monitors potential espionage and sabotage efforts. Like CSIS, IB is also mandated to inform its federal government of foreign-influenced activities within or relating to India that are detrimental to the interests of India and are clandestine or deceptive or involve a threat to any person, group or an institution. If my activities are treated as crime for denial of visa, will the Canadian authorities say their CSIS is also a criminal agency,” he asked.

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A journalist with seven years of working experience in Kashmir.

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