Pakistan’s free pass to China over Uighurs


Manzoor Ahmed

New evidence unveiled recently has demonstrated the extent of China’s repression of its Uighur citizens in Xinjiang province. As per the leaked secret documents, discovered by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, China in recent years has not only intensified its crackdown against the Uighur Muslims, but in the process it has also committed gross human rights violations.

For instance, as per a November 2017 directive from the Chinese Communist Party committee in Xinjiang, officials are asked to follow strict guidelines to maintain the internment camps. As per some of the earlier reports, there are at least 1 million residents in detention in these camps, where authorities have subjected them to political indoctrination and engage in acts contrary to Islamic beliefs, giving an impression of Islamophobia. The leaked directive details about the importance of preventing detainees’ escapes, necessity of maintaining surveillance, prohibitions on contact with the outside world, and the importance of secrecy. Some of the other leaked documents also showed that Chinese policies had resulted in mass-scale separation of kids from parents. Essentially, these documents have corroborated assessments from other sources and journalists of how Beijing has sought to extend its iron grip over the Xinjiang province, in its attempt to contain separatist tendencies.

Despite the clarity which has emerged over the Chinese policies, Pakistan has maintained a stony silence over these new revelations. Last time when such reports about Xinjiang had emerged, Islamabad had in fact gone in overdrive defending Chinese actions. In December 2018, the Pakistan Foreign Office spokesperson had defended Beijing blaming the international media for ‘spreading false information’ over developments in Xinjiang. The Pakistani proactive stance had in fact manifested in a letter signed by a group of United Nations ambassadors from 50 countries including Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Russia and Nigeria supporting China’s Xinjiang policy in July 2019. The letter was in response to another letter, sent earlier by a group of 22 countries including Canada, New Zealand, European Union, Australia and Japan, which had urged China to stop its policies of mass detention and forced labour in Xinjiang province.

Pakistan’s free pass to Beijing in fact goes against prime minister Imran Khan’s projection of him being a global defender of Islam and cautioning the world about Islamophobia. More importantly, Pakistan’s free pass to Beijing stands in sharp contrast to its cacophony over the withdrawal of special status to Jammu and Kashmir and its bifurcation by India. Pakistan’s hypocrisy is even more evident when one takes into account that India’s policy measure in Jammu and Kashmir was essentially an internal administrative move whereas Beijing’s crackdown in Xinjiang has manifested regional implications with adverse impact on Central Asian Republics and even Pakistan itself. Scores of Pakistani businessmen for months together have anxiously awaited fate of their wives after the latter were detained by the Chinese authorities as they intensified their crackdown in Xinjiang. And yet, Islamabad which often loses no time berating India for its alleged human rights violations in Jammu and Kashmir, has without qualms lost no time in defending China’s repressive measures against its Muslim citizens.

It is also important to point out, that in the light of the current damning of Beijing, Islamabad has rather chosen to speak on its pet project – the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC)- a project which manifestly benefits the Pakistani Army and its commercial interests. Recently, Pakistani foreign minister responding to US’ criticism of the CPEC had asserted that the American administration’s views will have no impact on the CPEC. Moreover, many Pakistani media reports have highlighted defence of CPEC from a Chinese scholar, Chen Xiang, Director China Radio International Confucius Class room.

If the Pakistani establishment has its vested interests in not speaking out in favour of Uighur Muslims, what is even more interesting is the silence of the Pakistani terrorist groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Muhammad, or the terrorist commanders like Hafiz Saeed, which are self-declared defenders of Muslim interests- groups which are always at the forefront of speaking out against India or Israel or the United States for their alleged mistreatment of Muslims. This doublespeak demonstrates how the radical groups are happy to peddle select narratives, which benefit the Pakistani establishment – prioritising opportunism over principles.

Pakistan’s continued silence over Beijing’s grave actions in Xinjiang once again demonstrates that Islamabad prioritises money over faith and hopes that this doublespeak will not be called out. However, global community has realised Islamabad’s double speak and is no longer ready to indulge in its duplicitous behaviour.