Dolkun Isa episode: Why India must test, not muddy waters with China

It was a telling case of the Indian government hastily backing off after testing the waters with China. But then, any other action would have sent New Delhi veering into diplomatic adventurism of the kind that can hardly be afforded with its biggest neighbour.

The government first issued an e-tourist visa to Uyghur activist Dolkun Isa for attending a conference in Dharamsala, but on April 23 – a day after the Chinese foreign office slammed the move – quickly reconsidered its decision.

Granting Isa a visa was neither prudent nor pragmatic, considering that he figures on the Interpol watch-list. It is incumbent on India or any other country to arrest him as soon as he lands on its soil. If the move was a reaction to Beijing blocking the designation of Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Mazood Azhar as an international terrorist, it was fraught with both danger and possible failure.

Isa was the wrong choice to pick because he carries a red corner notice against his name, and China terms him a terrorist. Hosting him would have amounted to India itself making a distinction between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ terrorists, something it has stood firmly against for long. It’s this position taken by India that has enabled it to claim a high moral ground from which to point fingers at Pakistan.

But of course, New Delhi was just testing the waters. Isa knew this too, which was why he demanded an assurance from Indian authorities that he would not be arrested upon arrival.

Nevertheless, the justifications made for granting the e-visa to Isa does not befit a country that’s purportedly at the forefront of the war against terror. How could the authorities have failed to notice his name on the Interpol list? The argument was that he had applied for a tourist visa, when he should have applied for a conference visa. Does this mean to suggest that an Interpol red corner notice cannot bar a person from getting a tourist visa to India? Do the details of the people on the Interpol list not factor in the system that provides tourist visas?

Isa had applied for the visa from Munich in Germany, but this is not the first such occurrence. Exiled Uyghur matriarch Rebiya Kadeer had also applied for a visa from the same country in 2009, but was turned away by the Indian government.

Besides, India and China have an understanding that they will not allow their soil to be used for political activities against each other. This time, the conference was taking place in Dharamsala – the seat of the Tibetan government in exile and the office of the Dalai Lama (whom China terms as a “splitist”). Norms stipulate that organisers of international conferences acquire security clearance from the home ministry, and submit a list of foreign participants to the officials concerned. It is strange that they failed to notice Isa’s name there.

Beijing has constantly been blocking India’s efforts to target Pakistani militants, and its double-standards on terrorism must be exposed. However, episodes such as these – which seem to show India buckling under Chinese pressure – may not serve that end. The first move, in such cases, holds the key.


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