Niloofar Qureshi

Criminal Silence on Persecution of Uighur Muslims and Lessons for Kashmir

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Pakistan has always been at the forefront when it comes to raising its voice against the oppression of Muslims across the world. However, this isn’t the case when it comes to the institutionalized persecution of Uighur Muslims of Xinjiang Autonomous Region by Chinese authorities. And while this conspicuous anomaly is obviously due to Islamabad’s near-complete dependence on Chinese diplomatic and financial support, but by turning a blind eye to the atrocities being committed against Uighur Muslims, Islamabad has punctured its much-hyped claim of unconditional solidarity with the oppressed Muslim fraternity across the globe and thus raised serious doubts regarding its sincerity on the very serious issue of ensuring justice for Muslims.

While every nation has the full right to pursue foreign policy in a way that suits its overall national interests, yet seldom does a country completely abandon its basic principles of morality as Pakistan has done. By maintaining a stoic silence on inhuman brutalities perpetuated by the Chinese to prevent peaceful Uighur Muslims from practicing Islam, Islamabad has expectedly invited widespread criticism from all over. Three years ago, in a widely circulated statement, Uighur Leader Dolkun Issa had made a stinging observation on Islamabad’s criminal silence on atrocities being committed against Uighurs in Xinjiang. An anguished Issa had stated that “Nothing stops Pakistan from talking about the plight of Muslims anywhere in the world but when it comes to Xinjiang there is complete silence even though the people there are suffering harsh religious prosecution.”

Some may feel that Issa’s stinging attack on Islamabad was an avoidable emotional outburst caused by his concern about Uighursbeing forced to suffer extreme privations only because they happen to be Muslims. However, a similar sentiment has also been expressed by Michael Kugelman, who is Deputy Director of the Asia programme at the Wilson Center. He too has noted that “It’s quite striking that while Pakistan often laments the plight of Rohingya, Syrian, Kashmiri, and Palestinian Muslims, you rarely hear Islamabad making statements in solidarity with Uighurs.” And Kugelman’s observation has merit because even if Islamabad doesn’t want to annoy Beijing by taking a pro-Uighur stance, it can always use diplomacy to convey an impression that while it immensely values its “sweeter than honey” relationship with Beijing, it also cares about the wellbeing of Uighurs. Hasn’t New Delhi played its Tibet card well by accepting Tibet as a part of China but has still allowed the Tibetan government in exile to be formed on Indian soil in Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh and function from there?

However, it appears that Islamabad is not willing to take any chances on this issue. And this is evident from the way Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan chose to play safe even at the cost of likely ridicule for his lack of basic awareness about the Uighur problem. Just three months ago, when asked during an interview to comment on Chinese treatment of its Uighur people, Khan dodged the question by feigning ignorance and saying “Frankly, I don’t know much about it.” He then went on to reinforce his feeble reply by adding “If I had enough knowledge about it, I would comment, but I don’t.” While one would love to believe that Khan was telling the truth, but with news that several Uighur ladies married to Pakistani nationals had been locked up in internment camps in Xinjiang since 2017 making headlines, it’s unlikely that Khan could have been ignorant about the Uighur problem, especially when the media was abuzz with first-hand accounts of how these unfortunate ladies were being “re-educated” by being forced to do things prohibited in Islam like consuming alcohol and pork!

After receiving reliable evidence that Uighur Muslims were being brutalised in order to prevent them from following mandatory religious practices prescribed in Islam, the UN and international community strongly condemned Beijing for denying Uighurs their fundamental right of freedom to practice religion. However, instead of adding its voice to the global outcry against Chinese highhandedness, Pakistan surprised the Muslim world by coming out in Beijing’s defence. In a move that amounted to rubbing salt on the psychological wounds of Uighur wives of Pakistani nationals who had suffered unspeakable indignities just because they wished to follow Islam, Pakistan Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Mohammad Faisal told reporters that “Some section of foreign media are trying to sensationalize the matter by spreading false information.”

At a time when the entire Muslim world is observing the holy month of Ramadan, the Uighurs of Xinjiang are being prevented from doing so, which is really unfortunate. Thus, it’s really heartening to learn that Hurriyat (G) chairman SAS Geelani has raised his voice against the unwarranted and inhuman persecution of Uighur Muslims and has rightly pointed out that the cruel treatment of Uighur Muslims by Chinese authorities is “the worst form of majoritarian oppression and religious hatred, which is enough to send shock waves down the spine of every conscious human.” And by reminding both Pakistan and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) of their moral responsibility to speak up for our oppressed Uighur brothers and sisters, the Hurriyat (G) chairman has rendered yeoman service to the beleaguered Uighur community.

By highlighting the religious persecution of Uighur Muslims, Geelani sahib has once again proved that even though greatly indebted to Pakistan and OIC for supporting the ‘self-determination’ movement in Kashmir, but being an upright person, he is unwilling to reciprocate gratitude by compromising on principles and Islamic teachings or letting the fear of losing patronage turn him into a mute spectator to what he has correctly described as “state- sponsored religious hatred”!

The Uighur tragedy has a lesson for Kashmiris, especially those who wholeheartedly believe that Islamabad and the OIC will be able to get support of the international community in compelling New Delhi to implement UN resolutions on Kashmir. The harsh reality is that even after more than seven decades, Pakistan hasn’t been able to make any progress in resolving this issue. And while it is bending backwards to please Beijing by disregarding persecution of Uighur Muslims and even allowing the CPEC to run through the disputed territory of Kashmir, Islamabad hasn’t even tried to use its “sweeter than honey” relationship with Beijing to seek China’s diplomatic support in jointly moving a motion in UN on against Indian refusal to implement UNSC resolutions on Kashmir. Similarly, even though the OIC supports ‘self-determination’ in Kashmir and is extremely critical of the way New Delhi’s is handling the situation there, none of its constituent member nations has severed diplomatic ties with New Delhi or imposed sanctions against India.

It’s not intended to belittle the moral support being given by Islamabad and OIC to the Kashmir cause. However, past experience has clearly shown that while they make a lot of hue and cry over the issue of resolving the Kashmir imbroglio in accordance with UN resolutions by issuing elaborate statements and declarations regularly, both unfortunately seem to either lack the required determination or the necessary ability to take this festering issue to its logical conclusion! In today’s world where furthering self-serving national interests is the most dominant factor in international relations, it would be unwise to expect any nation or organisation to champion a moral cause at the cost of its own vested benefits!

The writer is a Delhi based columnist and can be emailed at [email protected]




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