Days after China raised objections to India issuing a visa to Germany-based Uighur leader Dolkun Isa to visit Dharamsala for a conference later this month, New Delhi withdrew the visa Monday, leaving several red faces in the government.
India’s move to grant the visa was seen as a retaliatory measure after China blocked the listing of Jaish-e-Muhammad chief Masood Azhar as an international terrorist at the UN.
While Isa was quick to claim that “Chinese pressure” appeared to be the “main reason” for India cancelling the visa, officials said that the issue fell between two stools, the Home Ministry and the Ministry for External Affairs.
Also read: Dolkun Isa’s statement on the controversy
MEA officials distanced themselves from the decision, saying Home was the agency involved and that they were “not kept in the loop”.
For their part, Home Ministry officials said Monday that Isa had applied for an e-tourist visa online, and since his name did not come up in the blacklist on a computerised system, his application was granted. Later, when reports said Isa was travelling to India to attend a conference, the Home Ministry “realised” his visit was not for tourism purposes and cancelled the visa, they said.
Isa, a leader of the World Uighur Congress, had been invited to a conference being organised by the US-based Initiatives for China. Uighurs and other Chinese dissidents in exile are expected to attend and discuss democratic transformation in China.
Isa’s visa was withdrawn days after China lodged official protests through diplomatic channels, and reminded Delhi about the “red corner notice” on him. New Delhi was also reminded that India may find itself in a “tough spot” as the Chinese will make it a major bilateral issue, sources said.
While no threats were issued, the Chinese side hinted that Beijing may raise the issue of India allowing a “terrorist” to come and attend a conference, even as Indian officials make statements at the Heart of Asia conference on Afghanistan that “there are no good or bad terrorists”.
Officials also said India does not want to be seen as a country “harbouring” and giving “safe passage” to individuals who are considered “terrorists”.
“Isa applied for an e-tourist visa, but attending a conference is not permitted on that. Tourism, casual business visit, casual medical visit and casual meeting with friends are the only things permitted under such a visa,” a senior Home Ministry official said. “A person can apply for an e-tourist visa from his residence. He need not go to any of our offices, and he receives clearance online. He has to certify that he is coming only for one of the four allowed purposes.”
Asked whether background checks could have prevented the visa from being granted, the Home Ministry official said, “We have extended the e-tourist visa scheme to 150 countries. If somebody applies from one corner of the world, we check whether he or she figures in our blacklist. If the applicant is not on our blacklist, we give them travel authorisation. Isa is not there on our blacklist. If he were, he would automatically not receive a visa. We are not concerned whether or not there is a red corner notice against him. He was not there on the blacklist in our system.”
Isa, however, told The Indian Express, “I don’t know the exact reason for my visa being cancelled. I just received a very short message in the evening saying it has been cancelled… I don’t know the position of the Indian authorities, but as you know the Chinese government protested after I got a visa from India. They were very unhappy, and maybe this is one reason. I could not get any written statement or any unofficial or official reason sent to me. But the main reason, I think, is the Chinese pressure.”
After India had granted visa to Isa last week, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying had said, “What I want to point out is that Dolkun is a terrorist on red notice of the Interpol and Chinese police. Bringing him to justice is due obligation of relevant countries.”
China is particularly sensitive to Uighur leaders like Isa and Rebiya Kadeer, being hosted by foreign countries, and has expressed its desire to arrest them.
Delhi has been displeased with China for blocking Azhar’s listing as a terrorist at the UN, and has said that Beijing must shed “double standards” and stop being “selective” when it comes to terrorism.