Brookings Distinguished Fellow, also a former National Security Advisor for India, Shivshankar Menon said in an Indian Express article that China takes Uighur leaders — such as Isa and the US-based Rebiya Kadeer — seriously and is trying to have them blacklisted internationally, but “we (India) have no reason” to see Isa as a terrorist.
Dolkun Isa, the Uighur leader considered a terrorist by Beijing for fighting for the rights of the ethic group in China’s Xinjiang province, is not a terrorist for New Delhi, and India being a free country, giving him a visa is “our prerogative”, according to Menon.
He said China takes Uighur leaders — such as Isa and the US-based Rebiya Kadeer — seriously and is trying to have them blacklisted internationally, but “we (India) have no reason” to see Isa as a terrorist.
“The red alert against him only means we have an obligation to arrest him if he comes to India. It doesn’t mean we have taken a position on him…. Until (an) Indian court convicts him and decides, we cannot take a position on Isa,” he said.
About the clumsy handling of the visa issue, the former NSA said, “The way the whole thing was handled leaves the impression of confusion. Nobody knows what actually happened. If there was any negotiation with the Chinese at some stage…. Did the Chinese say ‘don’t do it’ (give him visa)? Did we get something in exchange?”
Isa was invited by an NGO run by Shaurya Doval, NSA Ajit Doval’s son, to attend a two-day conference in Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh, from April 30.
“I don’t think giving (Isa) visa was unexpected. India is a free country and giving visa is our prerogative. As long as it is not against Indian laws, I don’t think we (should) have a problem,” Menon said. “But the way it was portrayed, and then (the visa) was withdrawn, (it) has left the public confused. I hope it will be clarified…what actually transpired, and why it (visa) was withdrawn.”
Asked whether it was done under pressure from China, Menon said, “I have no idea. Many things could have happened. It will impact relationship because what you said on the issue and what China said over the issue is part of the relationship now. I wish they will clarify these things.”
About India’s options once it was found that Isa has a red corner notice against him, Menon said, “It depends on how they got into this position. I think it is easy to explain giving visa but not withdrawing it…in any case, if there is such a a red alert, it is this person (who has) to decide whether he wants to run the risk of being arrested. He (Isa) should have made that choice.”
Questioning the rationale that it was India’s way to counter China’s position of holding up listing of Masood Azhar, Menon said, “Let us not exaggerate the importance of listing any terrorists on UN list.”
Wondering whether it was India’s calculation that giving visa to “some Uighur activist whom China objects to” would change China’s position on Azhar, Menon said, “I don’t think we should make the mistake of thinking that somehow listing of Masood Azhar will change counter-terrorism in any fundamental way, or change direction of India-China relations. It will have an impact but it will not be the huge part of the relationship. “There is much more to India-China relationship than this,” Menon said.
This article was first published in the Indian Express on April 29, 2016. The views are those of the author. Brookings India does not hold any institutional views.