K B Jandial
How bizarre it is that the Islamic Republic of Pakistan is an all-weather allay of the People Republic of China which is brazenly indulging in repression on Muslims. Pakistan with its poor economy and a failed state always needed one block or the other for some special benefits, military or economical, for its survival as well as to ‘safeguard’ its sovereignty from external threats (pretending it to be from India which even historically had no expansionist designs). Conscious of its strategic geopolitical and geostrategic location, Pakistan, soon after independence in 1947, started signing one pact or the other and soon it became ‘ally of the West’ starting from Mutual Defence Assistance Agreement with USA in 1954, followed by SEATO, Bagdad Pact, CENTO, NATO. With fast changing global situation and international priorities, these pacts too got diluted; Pakistan has found China the most advantageous ally even though it is decimating Muslims every day.
Repression of Uighurs Muslims in Xinjiang province is no longer hidden behind the Great Wall of China. Recent reports of a journalist & researcher Lindsay Maizland and foreign media investigating teams have lifted the lid on Chinese tyranny, listing anti-Muslim draconian measures that threaten their existence. Some Human Rights organisations and western Govts have catalogued systemic attacks on Muslim Uighurs. These include Drone footage of hundreds of blindfolded and shackled men being led to a train for transfer, probably to a camp in Xinjiang in August last.
The Uighurs were traditionally settled in a series of oases scattered across the Taklamakan desert within the Tarim Basin, a territory that has historically been controlled by many civilizations including China, the Mongols, the Tibetans and various Turkic polities. They were gradually Islamized in the 10th century and by 16th century, most of them were Muslims. Islam has since played a dominant role in Uighur culture and identity. China recognizes them as native to the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region in Northwest China and a regional minority but didn’t accept as an indigenous group. Officially known as the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region constituting one-sixth of China’s landmass, the north western region has been claimed by China since the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) took power in 1949. Some Uighurs living there refers to the region as East Turkestan and argues that it ought to be independent from China. But China is making all out efforts to nip the growing mischief (aspiration) in the bud as Xinjiang borders eight countries, including Pakistan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan.
Unraveling Chinese repression, Lindsay’s report says that more than one million Uighurs Muslims have been detained in Xinjiang and kept in different concentration camps named as ‘Reeducation camps’ now rechristened as ‘ Education and Training’. The report released said that detainees have never been charged with any crimes and have no legal avenues to challenge their detentions. These issues on which they have been targeted include attending namaz at mosques; having more than three children; and sending texts containing Quranic verses, traveling to or contacting people from any of the twenty-six countries China considers sensitive, such as Turkey and Afghanistan. Human rights groups say that their only crime is being Muslim, adding that many Uighurs have been labeled as extremists simply for practicing Islam. These camps are the important component of Chinese Government’s ‘anti-extremism’ campaign and control of Muslim population.
It is said that for decades, China had unique system of minority entitlements with Uighurs and other minorities getting s points on college entrance exams, Govt jobs and health facilities. However, under abandoned ‘one-child’ policy the people now faced forced sterilization, abortions but minorities were allowed two children. But under President Xi Jinping rule, these benefits were withdrawn and after his visit to Xinjiang in 2014, draconian measures were introduced to reduce birth rates of Muslims. In practice, Han community was spared but other ethnicities like Muslims were subjected to forced abortions, sterilization, detentions etc. This was sequel to State-backed scholars’ blame on religious minorities for bombings, assaults etc. They had also warned that the growing Muslim population was a breeding ground for poverty and extremism which could “heighten political risk.”
Hundreds of camps are located in Xinjiang. An AP investigating team puts the figure of camps at 484, of which 149 exclusively are for those women who have many children. Even before coming up of the concept of Camps, the Chinese Government has been cracking down on religious freedom and basic human rights of Muslims in Xinjiang on one pretext or the other. “Rozas” are totally banned and to check it Communist Party members have been recruited to stay in Uighur homes and report on any perceived “extremist” behaviors, including fasting during Ramadan. It is no secret that administration has destroyed mosques in Xinjiang on the ground that the buildings were shoddily constructed and unsafe for worshippers. Uighur and other minority women have reported forced sterilizations and intrauterine device insertions. Not only are the restrictions on number of children, Uighur Muslims forbidden from giving their babies religious names, like Mohammed. Halal food is difficult to be found in Urumqi as the local government has launched a campaign against it.
Beijing has also pressurized other Governments to repatriate Uighurs who had fled China. In 2015, for example, Thailand returned more than one hundred Uighurs, and in 2017 Egypt deported several students. The documents released by ICIJ showed that the Chinese Government instructed officials to collect information on Chinese Uighurs living abroad and many are arrested as soon as they returned to China.
Experts say that Xinjiang’s camps that actually started in 2014 expanded hugely in 2017. With local media under its thumb, authorities don’t allow foreign journalists in these out-of-bound areas but the satellite imageries showed 39 of these camps had grown in three times in size between April 2017 and August 2018. Germany based Xinjiang expert, Adrian Zenz found that spending on construction of these so called security-related facilities in Xinjiang too increased by 20 billion Yuan (approx. $2.96 billion) in 2017.
Information on what actually happens in the camps is also very limited, but many detainees who have since fled China after release recalled very harsh conditions in the camps. According to them, detainees are forced to pledge loyalty to the Communist Party and renounce Islam, sing in praise of communism and be its mandarin. Some of them talked about existence of prison-like conditions, with cameras and microphones monitoring their every moment and utterances. There are many who told about long interrogations and torture to which they were subjected. Women have shared stories of sexual abuse, with some saying that they were forced to undergo abortions or have contraceptive devices implanted against their will. Some released detainees contemplated suicide or witnessed suicides by others.
Consequent upon detention and lodging in these camps, children of such detainees are put in orphanages. Uighur parents living outside of China often face a difficult choice: return home to be with their children and risk detention, or stay abroad, separated from their children and unable to contact them for years.
Experts say Xinjiang has been turned into a surveillance state that relies on cutting-edge technology to monitor millions of people. Under Xinjiang’s Communist Party leader, Chen, Xinjiang was placed under a grid-management system, as described in media reports, in which cities and villages were split into squares of about five hundred people. Each square has a police station that closely monitors inhabitants by regularly scanning their identification cards, taking their photographs and fingerprints, and searching their cell phones. In some cities, such as western Xinjiang’s Kashgar, police checkpoints are found every one hundred yards or so, and facial-recognition cameras are everywhere. The Government also collects and stores citizens’ biometric data through a required program advertised.
A German Muslim footballer Mesut Ozil on his Instagram account described Uighurs as “warriors who resist persecution… Glorious believers who put up a fight alone against those who forcefully move people away from Islam.” He lamented, “Qurans are burned… Mosques were closed down… Islamic theological schools, Madrasahs were banned … Religious scholars were killed one by one … Despite all this, Muslims (of the world) stay quiet. Reacting on it, U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo denounced the Chinese policies in a statement saying, “We call on the Chinese Communist Party to immediately end these horrific practices”. In another tweet, Pompeo wrote, “The CCP can’t hide its gross #Human Rights violations perpetrated against Uighurs and other religious faiths from the world.”
Strangely, while all this is happening to Muslims in China, Pakistan and other Islamic nations maintained silence, considering their economic ties and strategic relationship more important than human rights of Uighurs Muslims. While a group of European nations sent a letter to UN Human Rights Chief in 2019, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia submitted separate letter eulogizing China for its “remarkable achievements on human rights front and “counterterrorism”.
Pak rulers have sold out to China to the extent that it didn’t have political and moral courage to speak about the protection and restoration of religious rights of repressed Muslims of Xinjiang. It preferred to risk possible fatality of thousands of Pakistani students studying in Wuhan when deadly Coronavirus had started taking toll of people in the area rather than bringing back to home lest Chinese Govt is annoyed. On the contrary India organised flights from Wuhan and elsewhere and brought back its nationals including students.
Equally surprising was the ‘love’ for China generated in a section of population in Kashmir (known for anti- India views) during the tense moments of standoff on Eastern Ladakh but their ‘dream’ short lived. After suffering loss of lives, much bigger than of India on 15th June bloody hand fight, China decided to pullback in stages as part of agreement. While Mehbooba Mufti made sharp reaction of Chinese standoff and took jibe on Modi Govt, Dr. Farooq Abdullah showed his maturity in his concern on the situation. He said, “I pray for long-lasting peace to the entire region. I also extend my sympathies to the families of jawans who have lost their lives on the LAC following a deadly face-off with Chinese troops.” But his son took certain elements head on. Omar’s tweeted “Those Kashmiris tempted to look towards China as some sort of saviour need only google, the plight of Uighur Muslims. Be careful what you wish for.”