Visa for Uyghur Dissident Leader An Avoidable Fiasco

Dolkun Isa’s visa fiasco emphasises the need for a cohesive bilateral policy with China, writes C Uday Bhaskar.

Updated
Opinion
4 min read
The whole Dolkun Isa visa issue exudes a degree of ineptitude and embarrassment, resulting in a fiasco that could have been avoided. (Photo Courtesy: <a href="https://twitter.com/Dolkun_Isa">Dolkun Isa@Dolkun_Isa</a>/ iStock/Altered by <b>The Quint</b>)

The Indian visa issued to Mr Dolkun Isa, a German national of Uyghur descent, earlier in April to attend a democracy conference in Dharamshala was cancelled on Monday, 25 April.  This is a politico-diplomatic fiasco that could have been avoided and reflects poorly on the governance index of the Home Ministry in particular – and the cohesion factor of the Modi government as it completes two years in office in mid-May.

The Dolkun Isa visa acquired high visibility since it related to a Uyghur dissident leader who has been identified by Beijing as a ‘terrorist.’ China issued a notice to Interpol in relation to the individual when he sought exile in Europe. However, no major western nation has accepted this allegation or the related notice to Interpol. Mr Isa himself has always emphasised his commitment to non-violence even while seeking to protect the political rights of Uyghurs in China.

India’s Muscular Subtext

The brief recapitulation of events and the larger context is as follows.

On 1 April, China used its veto at the UN Security Council to scuttle India’s bid to place Pathankot terror attack mastermind, Masood Azhar , the UN sanctions list. Delhi expressed its “disappointment” in a terse statement issued by the MEA spokesperson. Clearly, the amber lights were beginning to glow with regards to the India-China bilateral.

Subsequent reports suggest that an electronic visa, normally meant for tourist purposes, was issued through the Indian mission in Germany to Mr Isa.  One presumes that the personal profile of the individual and his linkage to Beijing were on the radar of the Indian government, as also the anomaly of issuing a tourist visa for a major democracy conference, with its attendant political overtones.

One can only speculate that this perhaps was part of some complex signalling by Delhi to Beijing over the issue of support to terror groups and the implicit correlation to Pakistan and the Sino-Pak relationship. Media commentary interpreted this as the new resolve of the Modi government, and the ‘muscular’ subtext was welcomed.

Predictably, Beijing conveyed its ‘ire’ through its Foreign Ministry and its favoured media outlets, accusing India of supporting terrorism and ‘splittism’ against China. The visa issue elicited editorial comment in some major Indian dailies and linkages were made with yet another visa – that issued to a Canadian national of Balochi origin. Everyone could figure that Delhi was now upping the ante in relation to terrorism and its major neighbours – and was not averse to playing hardball.

Will Delhi enable what will be perceived as the ‘red-rag’ to stoke Beijing’s deepest fears?&nbsp; Currently President Xi Jinping is dealing with multiple challenges - economic, political and growing social unrest.&nbsp;(Photo: Reuters)
Will Delhi enable what will be perceived as the ‘red-rag’ to stoke Beijing’s deepest fears?  Currently President Xi Jinping is dealing with multiple challenges - economic, political and growing social unrest. (Photo: Reuters)
Snapshot

India’s Embarrassing U-Turn?

  • Indian authorities withdraw the visa issued to dissident Uyghur leader Dolkun Isa, reportedly under pressure from China.
  • Earlier, India’s decision to issue visa seen as a ti- for-tat move after China blocked efforts for sanctions against Masood Azhar.
  • Final outcome of the Dharamshala conference (which lists the Dalai Lama) will be watched with considerable interest by Beijing.
  • Democratic aspirations and dissent per se are an anathema to the Chinese Communist Party leadership
  • Visa row another instance that emphasises the need for a more cohesive bilateral policy.

Visa Revocation

However, the response of the Indian Foreign Ministry was more cautious and merely dwelt on certain media reports regarding Isa’s visa, and fell back on a safe option. The spokesperson noted that the ‘facts were being ascertained’ – which is another way of conceding that the MEA was either not quite in the loop, or was reluctant to illuminate the matter in the public domain.

The debate within the extended security-strategic community was ambivalent, given the opaque, complex, tangled and contradictory strands to the bilateral relationship with China. Even as the efficacy and prudence of this so-called new policy with respect to Beijing and terror were being reviewed, we saw this new development that the electronic visa has been cancelled/withdrawn. The reasons being identified are technical – that a tourist visa is inappropriate for a conference and that Mr Isa could perhaps apply again!

Asia’s two largest nations have to find a modus vivendi to the many issues that remain unresolved between them.&nbsp;(Photo: iStock)
Asia’s two largest nations have to find a modus vivendi to the many issues that remain unresolved between them. (Photo: iStock)

China Rattled with the Dharamshala Conference

The Dharamshala conference on democracy scheduled to open on Thursday, 28 April, will bring together many Chinese dissidents, including leaders of minority ethnicities such as the Uyghurs, Tibetans, et al.  The event is being held under the aegis of ‘Initiatives for China’  - a US-based organisation led by Yang Jianli, a student leader who was part of the 1989 pro-democracy Tiananmen protests that rattled the Beijing government at the time.

The final outcome of the Dharamshala conference (which lists the Dalai Lama) will be watched with considerable interest by Beijing and the vast international constituency of China-watchers.  Democratic aspirations and dissent per se are anathema to the Chinese Communist Party leadership.

Will Delhi enable what will be perceived as the ‘red-rag’ to stoke Beijing’s deepest fears?  Currently President Xi Jinping is dealing with multiple challenges - economic, political and growing social unrest. This has introduced a very perplexing dynamic in the domestic framework of China, reminiscent of Chairman Mao’s predicament in the early 1960s.

Cohesive Bilateral Policy

Consequently, any radical move by Delhi on this multi-layered chessboard that impacts the bilateral has to be distilled with an appropriate mix of perspicacity and prudence, leavened with principle and pragmatism.

The whole Dolkun Isa visa issue exudes a degree of ineptitude and embarrassment, resulting in a fiasco that could have been avoided.  What is paradoxical is that the Modi government has just concluded a series of high-level meetings with China at the ministerial and NSA level.  Furthermore, President Pranab Mukherjee is also scheduled to visit China next month.

Asia’s two largest nations have to find a modus vivendi to the many issues that remain unresolved between them.  The political leadership on both sides must calibrate a more cohesive bilateral policy; one that accommodates each others’ abiding national interest in an equitable manner.

(The writer is a leading expert on strategic affairs. He is currently Director, Society for Policy Studies.)

Also read:

Exclusive: Watch Dolkun Isa’s FB Live on India’s Visa U-Turn

Clearing Cobwebs: Will Parrikar’s China Visit Allay India’s Fears?

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