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Dolkun Isa visa mess up: Was the Foreign Office not in the loop?

Catch Team | Updated on: 26 April 2016, 22:59 IST

There's a storm brewing in foreign policy circles, after India's flip-flop on granting a visa to Germany-based Uyghur leader Dolkun Isa. Diplomats are aghast at the way India first granted him a visa, and then revoked it.

They are also shocked at the claim made by Ministry of External Affairs sources - that they were not kept in the loop by Home Ministry officials.

The issuance of the visa was seen as a tit-for-tat reaction to the Chinese veto on Maulana Masood Azhar at the United Nations Security Council, since China considers Isa to be a 'terrorist'.

China's threat

China has lodged a strong protest over the matter, and reminded India that Isa was a 'terrorist', who had an Interpol red corner notice against him. It had also warned that India could find itself in a tight spot over the matter.

Former foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal says he was astonished at the revocation of the visa. "It has damaged us politically. If it was done to send a message to the Chinese, that 'if you have your list of terrorists, we have ours', we shouldn't have reversed the decision later," Sibal says.

"The PMO and MEA are cutting very sorry figures by giving the Uyghur dissident, Dolkun Isa, a visa to visit India, and then backing off after they ostensibly discovered he had an Interpol red corner notice in his name," Mohan Guruswamy, a policy commentator, wrote on his page.

Home Ministry's assertion

The Home Ministry, while revoking the visa, had said that Isa had applied for a tourist visa and, since he is not on any blacklist in India, the visa was granted. The explanation by the MHA basically means it had not carried out a background check on the person.

The assertion does not sound convincing. A former diplomat pointed out that the government has all the means to carry out a proper background check.

Sibal says on the face of it, what the MHA is saying could be true. He pointed out that if it was done in full knowledge, officials would have noted the pros and cons, including the possible Chinese reaction. But "despite the explanations, it is unclear whether we were retrieving a mistake voluntarily, or succumbing to Chinese pressure," he insists.

Modi govt's biggest misstep

Former diplomat and foreign policy commentator Vivek Katju says: "Looked at from any angle, the way the government handled the Dolkun Isa visa matter has very much damaged its credibility. It will inevitably be perceived as bending to Chinese pressure after having taken the correct decision."

Katju went to the extent of calling it the Modi government's single most significant misstep on foreign policy.

Alka Acharya, director of the Institute of Chinese Studies, says there are still a lot of questions over what transpired. She says that in the absence of a proper explanation, it is possible that there was a genuine gap, and that the Indian government realised the importance of the red corner notice which would have forced it to arrest Isa, in case he decided to travel to India.

Edited by Shreyas Sharma

First published: 26 April 2016, 22:59 IST