In a move being seen as a retaliatory measure after China blocked the listing of Jaish-e-Muhammad chief Masood Azhar as an international terrorist at the UN, India has issued a visa to a Germany-based Uyghur leader to visit Dharamsala for a conference later this month. This is likely to lead to a diplomatic row between New Delhi and Beijing in the coming days, officials said. Dolkun Isa, a leader of the World Uyghur Congress, has been invited to a conference being organised by the US-based Initiatives for China. Uyghurs and other Chinese dissidents in exile are expected to attend and discuss democratic transformation in China.
Reacting to India’s decision, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying 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.” India had recently also issued a visa to Baloch nationalist leader Naela Qadri Baloch, who lives in self-exile in Canada. Baloch leaders in exile are viewed as secessionists by Pakistan’s establishment.
Top sources told The Indian Express that the decision to issue a visa to both leaders was taken at the “highest level” in the government. Sources said Indian ambassador to Canada Vishnu Prakash was told about the decision some weeks ago, while Indian envoy to Germany Gurjit Singh was informed last week. Sources said Isa has told Indian embassy officials to arrange for his security in the country.
While this conference was being planned for the last few months, the decision to grant him an “e-visa” is a “calibrated” move given the current equations with China, officials said. On China’s response, Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Vikas Swarup said, “We have seen media reports and the ministry is trying to ascertain facts.” China is particularly sensitive to Uyghur leaders like Isa and Rebiya Kadeer, being hosted by foreign countries, and has expressed its desire to arrest them. In 2009, Delhi had shown unwillingness to host Kadeer, another prominent Uyghur leader.
Beijing has accused Isa of organising terrorist activities in the Muslim-majority western Xinjiang region, home to the Uyghurs, one of the 55 minorities in China. In 2009, he was not allowed to enter South Korea as he was on a terrorist watchlist. Chinese media had reported that he was wanted for terrorist attacks in Toksu, Xinjiang, in the 1990s. Isa left China in 1997 and was granted asylum in Germany, where he has been living ever since. China has also blamed Isa’s World Uyghur Congress for fomenting violence in Xinjiang, most notably in 2009, when mass riots claimed at least 197 lives.
The WUC has rejected the charges, saying it is working to highlight repression faced by Uyghur minorities. The April 28 conference in Dharamsala is expected to be attended by the Dalai Lama, among others. It is being organised by a pro-democracy group whose president, Yang Jianli, was among the student protesters at Tiananmen Square in 1989. “That Delhi is willing to host three individuals seen by Beijing as ‘anti-China’ — the Dalai Lama, an outfit headed by a pro-democracy leader involved in Tiananmen Square protests, and a prominent Uyghur leader in-exile — is a signal to up the ante… China’s next diplomatic move remains to be seen,” a source privy to the developments said. 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.
Over the last week, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar and National Security Advisor Ajit K Doval have raised the issue with their Chinese counterparts. Beijing has been dismissive about Delhi’s concerns and has said that it has not put a veto, but only put the move at the UN on technical hold.
This is not the first time India has upped the ante with China. In November 2011, India refused to prevent the Dalai Lama from speaking at a Buddhism conference, which prompted China to cancel the Special Representative-level border talks in Delhi. Who is Dolkun Isa A pro-independence Uyghur activist from Xinjiang, a Muslim-majority region in China where Beijing is facing a movement for independence and autonomy.
Though Isa has publicly condemned violent methods to seek political rights, China and Taiwan have declared him a “terrorist”, especially after the 2009 mass riots in which at least 197 people were killed. After a serious threat to his life, he fled to Europe on a fake passport in 1997. He became a citizen of Germany in 2006. Beijing used its influence and got a red notice issued against Isa from Interpol.
China has put Isa on the most-wanted terrorist list since 2003 Uyghurs, a Turkic Muslim ethnic group, consider Eastern Turkistan or Xinjiang their historical home. The region was turned into a Chinese province when Qing dynasty occupied it and it was later named as Xinjiang in 1884. The region is almost cut off and journalists aren’t allowed to travel there