Geopolitics

Pakistan’s Betrayal of Xinjiang’s Uyghur Muslims
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 20 Nov , 2023

Ethnic Uighurs look on as Chinese security forces stand by the entrance to the Uighurs neighborhood in Urumqi in China’s Xinjiang autonomous region (Photo © www.voanews.com)

On September 27, 2019, while speaking at the annual United Nations General Assembly [UNGA] meet at Geneva, Pakistan’s then Prime Minister Imran Khan passionately spoke on Islamophobia. While his particular concern for what he perceives is persecution of the ‘ummah’ [the entire Muslim community considered as a whole] should have won him accolades but it didn’t, and the reason for this was his patently selective approach on this issue.

Readers would recall that just a month before his UNGA address, Khan had been asked during an interview given to Al Jazeera, whether he had ever discussed the issue of Uyghur Muslims with Chinese President Xi Jinpin.  Palpably ‘bowled out’, the cricketer turned politician clumsily tried to circumvent this query by saying, “No, I have not. We have been facing so many of our internal problems right now that I do not know much about this problem.” [Emphasis added]. This reply was again a big fat lie.

About a week and half before Khan’s Al Jazeera interview, the media reported that Islamabad had carried out an internal assessment on the impact of the Uyghur issue on public sentiments in Pakistan. This report confirmed that there was “seething anger” amongst Pakistanis against the way Chinese authorities were treating Muslim Uyghurs and came out with four recommendations for Beijing.

These recommendations included the establishment of ‘confidence building measures’ in Xinjiang, getting a “better understanding of the religion [Islam],” communication through “reliable and mature religious leaders,” and not to perceive the “common population of Xinjiang as a collective threat.”  Instead of examining these suggestions, Beijing adopted a tough stance and reportedly told Islamabad that its concerns on Uyghurs were “taking the shape of emotions” and advised it to “manage negative sentiments domestically.”

Islamabad promptly complied without any questions being asked. So, at a time when Islamabad and Beijing were exchanging communications on this subject, it’s well nigh impossible that Khan would be unaware about the Uyghur issue as he had claimed during the Al Jazeera interview. Even if this was the case, how could Khan who projects himself as a consummate crusader for Muslim rights, have missed taking note of Beijing’s 2017 ‘Sinification’ programme which has the impertinence to presuppose that Islam in its present form isn’t compatible with socialism and hence needs to be adapted to meet the Communist Party of China’s requirements?

Pakistan’s apathy on the Uyghur issue is heart-rending and with Khan admitting that “Because of our extreme proximity and relationship with China, we actually accept the Chinese version” [Emphasis added], aptly reveals Islamabad’s absolute subservience to Beijing’s diktats. Not only this, Pakistan has been rounding up and deporting Uyghurs who fled Xinjiang to escape religious persecution  and settled down in Pakistan or in parts of Pakistan occupied Jammu and Kashmir [PoJK]. Simultaneously, Beijing has put many Uyghur women married to Pakistani men in detention camps and the most shameful part is that Isamabad has turned a deaf ear to frantic appeals of husbands demanding to be reunited with their wives.

Pakistan’s duplicity  has also been univocally condemned by Geneva based World Uyghur Congress with its President, Dolkun Isa, telling ANI that “Pakistan Prime Minister brings up the Kashmir issue all the time but when it comes to the Uyghurs, he closes his eyes and supports China’s policy. This is a double standard.” However, Isa isn’t the only one who has exposed Islamabad’s perfidy on the Uyghur issue.

The Diplomat quotes Pakistan’s former foreign minister Khurshid Kasuri saying that “Turkey should be vocal about the Uyghur issue. They [Uyghurs] are Turkic origin people. It is not in Pakistan’s interest to discuss issues related to China publicly.” This matter-of-fact statement truly reflects Islamabad’s expediency on the Uyghur issue and this sentiment also echoes in the European Foundation for South Asian Studies [EFSAS] commentary of June 11, 2021.

The EFSAS report observes that “In the case of the Uyghurs, it is not Pakistan’s self interest in the region that is the culprit. Pakistan’s submission to the hegemony of China and the lure of the Yuan are what are to blame. The suppression of the small population of Uyghur refugees living in Pakistan and the deportation of hundreds of them to China without due legal procedures being followed nevertheless hopelessly exposes Pakistan’s hypocrisy, its utter disregard for Muslims, and the complete absence of any solidarity with them. It demonstrates beyond any doubt that as far as Pakistan is concerned, the protection of Islam is merely a convenient weapon that periodically requires to be greased with lip service.” [Emphasis added].

This is why the international community isn’t impressed by Islamabad’s comical charade of trying to project itself as the global leader of the anti-Islamophobia crusade. Despite there being no formal restrictions on publishing news, views and opinions on the Uyghur issue, Pakistani media generally plays by the ‘discretion is the better part of valour’ rule and avoids publishing unsavoury facts on the brutal way in which Beijing is repressing Uyghur Muslims due to fears of being ‘punished’ in a number of ways ranging from legal action to harassment, abduction and physical abuse.

It’s thus but natural that few would like to stick their necks out by taking up this issue. However, there are some who refuse to fall in line, and Pakistani columnist Qazi Javed who writes for the Urdu publication Daily Jasarat is one such daring scribe. Reacting to China’s Foreign Minister Qin Gang’s criticism of Taliban’s ill-treatment of women, Javed wrote “Yes, this is the same China where the women of the Muslim Uyghur community are left naked, handcuffed, and humiliated in front of humanoid dogs and other animals for practising Muslim beliefs”!

Pakistan apologists may argue that when no Islamic nation is being critical of Beijing’s ill-treatment of the Muslim Uyghurs, why Pakistan is being singled out as the sole delinquent. The answer is simple- while other Islamic nations may not be expressing solidarity with the Uyghurs, they aren’t doing anything to facilitate persecution of Uyghurs. Pakistan on the other hand, is helping Beijing to legitimise persecution of Uyghurs both by omission and commission.

The 2021 joint Uyghur Human Rights Project [UHRP] and Oxus Society for Central Asian Affairs [Oxus] report [‘Nets Cast from the Earth to the Sky: China’s Hunt for Pakistan’s Uyghurs’] mentions “…several instances in which China rewarded Pakistan for aiding its campaign against Uyghurs. In exchange for development assistance, Pakistan signed extradition treaties, arrested individuals at China’s request, and rebuked critics of China’s harsh policies, all of which made it easier for China to continue repressing Uyghurs.” [Emphasis added].

So, considering its great disservice to the beleaguered Uyghur Muslims of Xinjiang, how can Pakistan escape being singled out?

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Nilesh Kunwar

is a retired Indian Army Officer who has served in Jammu and Kashmir, Assam, Nagaland, and Manipur.

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