Row over extradition treaty with India

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The Independent Online
THE government was attacked for handing a 'propoganda victory' to India yesterday as it signed an extradition treaty with New Delhi and an agreement on the confiscation of terrorists' assets. India, which claims that much of the separatist activity in Punjab and Kashmir is planned and funded in Britain, has been pressing for the measures for several years.

The Indian Home Minister, S B Chavan, welcomed 'Britain's support in our endeavour to combat terrorism'. The extradition treaty and the confiscation agreement were 'a declaration of our political will to co-operate in this'. The Prime Minister, John Major, had promised that Britain would seek European co-operation to curb terrorism against India, said Mr Chavan.

One of India's leading parliamentary critics, however, said both agreements were unnecessary, and had been signed by Britain as a sop to New Delhi. Max Madden, the Labour MP for Bradford South, said India would use them as proof that Britain supported New Delhi's anti-terrorism strategy, which had seen gross and persistent human rights abuses by security forces in Punjab and Kashmir.

Mr Madden said the documents signed yesterday went no further than the extradition treaty among Commonwealth countries and existing British laws on confiscating terrorist assets. The Home Office, however, said the new treaty would stop terrorist suspects from avoiding extradition by arguing that their offences were political.

'The innocent have nothing to fear,' said its statement. 'Before extradition, magistrates would have to be satisfied that the Indian government had produced enough evidence to support their case, and that there was no motive to prosecute on grounds of race, religion, nationality or political opinion.' Relations between Britain and India have been bedevilled since the early 1980s by allegations of involvement in terrorism on the sub-continent by Indian exiles, and Britons of Indian descent.

Indian officials say large sums are collected in mosques, Sikh temples and businesses in Asian areas, often under the guise of charitable purposes, but sometimes using intimidation. Successive governments in New Delhi accused the British authorities of failing to take the problem seriously.

According to Indian sources, Britain's attitude began to change after the Indian Assistant High Commissioner in Birmingham was assassinated in 1984. Amanullah Khan, leader of the organisation which claimed responsibility, the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front, was subsequently deported. Charities legislation was tightened, and it is believed the security services increased surveillance of Sikh and Kashmiri activists.

Civil rights campaigners are concerned, however, that Indian citizens accused of involvement in terrorism by New Delhi can be deported with few legal restraints. Lawyers are fighting the decision of the Home Secretary to deport a Sikh activist, Karamjit Singh Chahal, on national security grounds. Mr Chahal is appealing in the courts against the government's refusal of political asylum.