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China’s Uiqhur suppression and Pakistan’s reticence

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By: Mohammad Asgar Khan

Since People’s Republic of China’s inception in 1949, China has executed a series of policies to curtail the religious freedom of Uighurs and to suppress them in order to gain more political authority over the resource rich strategic autonomous region of Xinjiang. China has enforced demographic changes in the region by infusing more ‘Han’ Chinese, with the aim to crush any voices of dissent. Crushing dissent isn’t limited for China just within its political boundaries. Reports have come up where cases of exploitation of Pakistani Muslims who either travel to Xinjiang for trade/business or have familial links with Uighur people have faced undue exploitation in the name of security from the authorities of both the countries, which includes detaining in camps, keeping in custody without any reason, dividing families.

China has maintained its diplomatic pressure over Pakistan so that the later remains silent on the issue of persecution of Uighur Muslims. Pakistan on the other hand is using China to deal with its political realities, be its requirement of Covid-19 vaccines or to counter the India factor. China provides Pakistan with tens of billions of dollars in loans and expanding military cooperation. Pakistan buys nearly 40 percent of China’s arms exports. It is also the flagship site for Xi’s Belt and Road global infrastructure initiative, which includes a 2,000-mile “China-Pakistan Economic Corridor” of roads and railways from Kashgar to the Arabian Sea.

However, there are also future security implications. China’s crackdown on Uighur separatists and terrorists and ensuring that the East Turkestan Islamic Movement could not establish bases in north-western Pakistan have provided a fertile ground for growth of radical Islamist groups. If the Uighur situation worsens, there is potential for rise of regional militant groups that are ideologically committed to protecting Muslims to further ally with the Uighur cause. Pakistan may then face retaliation.

China’s growing tensions with the West which is often being described as the next cold war is marked by a divide between authoritarianism and populist democratic politics. Pakistan as a debt ridden country would suffer more if such scenario becomes a reality. If Pakistan were to destabilize, radical Islamist groups may pop up in the restive region of Xinxiang and in the bordering areas of Pakistan. All these are sure to act as a security threat to countries like India. Too much dependence on China and criminal silence by Pakistan on atrocities by China on its Muslim populations is a perfect recipe for a disaster waiting to happen with large scale implications for India.

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