By Samuel Baid
Amid world’s outcry against the never-ending persecution of Uighur Muslims in China’s province of Xinjiang, Pakistan has at last officially broken its silence albeit mildly, in order to register its timid protest. But a section of English-language newspapers went at it hammer and tongs perhaps reflecting the common Pakistani’s suppressed resentment in the country against Uighur Muslims’ plight.
The Pakistani “protest” came in the form of advice to Chinese Ambassador to Pakistan, Yao Xing by Pakistan’s Religious and Interfaith Affairs Minister Noorul Haq Qadri at their meeting in Islamabad last month. Qadri told the Chinese Ambassador, “the placement of restrictions increases the chances of an extremist viewpoint growing in reaction”. The Minister was talking in the context of the so-called re-education camp for a million Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang. Going by report published in DAWN, there is no indication of the Minister’s protest against China’s determination to efface Islam in Xinjiang. There was also no protest against China holding back 50 women from Xinjiang married to the traders of Gilgit-Baltistan. It was the first time that a Pakistani Minister talked to a Chinese official about restrictions in Xinjiang but the government quickly clarified that it was no criticism of China.
As said above, a section of English-language newspapers has been very critical of the Chinese. Dawn looks at the persecution of Uighur Muslims in the context of what it calls “the extraordinary wave of authoritanarism that has accompanied the rise of (President) Xi Jinping”. This wave is to be seen nowhere in China as in Xinjiang. An article in the Express Tribune said the lack of reaction to atrocities was for two reasons: (i) China has managed to stifle flow of information from Xinjiang. (ii) Realpolitik and self-interest. “China has now become a key trade partner of most Muslim nations”. It says there are very few Muslim countries which are perturbed. They are Indonesia and Malaysia. Turkey, which has strong cultural links with Turkic-speaking Uighurs, is also concerned. But Eric Schluessel, a professor of Chinese history and politics at the University of Montana writes despite Turkey’s link with Turkic-speaking Uighurs, it has stronger trade links with China through the Belt and Road initiative (BRI). Other Muslim countries have been largely silent for similar reasons, “prompting frustration among diaspora Uighurs”.
The Uighur Muslims have never been happy as a part of China; more so after the communism movement started which began interfering in their religious life. Since, the Han dynasty (202 BC-AD 220) the territory of Xinjiang has been under the Chinese rule off and on. In 1884 it officially became a part of China. But Uighurs struggled to liberate themselves from China in the wake of communist movement led by Mao Tse Tung. Dr. Satyanarain Singh in his book “The Chinese Aggression” (1961, New Delhi) has written on the basis of his talks with Soviet intelligence officers in Moscow that the communist Soviet Union though a great friend of communist China was against the latter’s control over Xinjiang. The Soviets were not willing to take China’s friendship for granted. Stalin had planned linking of Xinjiang with Central Asian Muslim majority states to create a buffer against China. Singh learnt that the Soviets had created revolts in Xinjiang to pre-empt China’s mischief and the British fanned revolts here to make Xinjiang a Muslim State as a buffer between India and the Soviet Union. At that time they did consider China as future threat. According to “The Chinese Aggression”, Uighur revolt against China once helped India. In 1957, amid chanting of “Hindi Chinee Bhai Bhai”, China prepared a large scale surprise attack on India to grab strategically important passes and adjacent fertile territories of India. But this plan could not take off because Uighurs, who were revolting at that time, snapped the long vulnerable communication lines of the Chinese forces stretching from North-West China to the Northern borders of India.
Because of China’s very systematic suppression of information, the world outside Xinjiang does not really know what kind of atrocities are inflected in the re-education camp on those, who are considered hard nuts by the so-called Chinese educators. We have only heard numerous things like the inmates of the camp forced to sing in praise of President Xi’s thoughts and of Communism. But the Chinese government has not known for mercy, kindness and human rights. Dr. Singh’s book gives some hair-raising instances of Chinese atrocities on Uighur men, women and children. Chinese commander general at Kashgarh, Ma Chung-Yin had killed 2000 to 3000 people in Kashgarh in the 1930s. Xinjiang nationalist Uzman was put in a cage and fixed firmly between nailed planks. He died after eight days in the condition. Uzman became famous for resisting Mao Tse Tung’s rule in Xinjiang.
The establishment of the “re-education” camp in Xinjiang shows that in keeping with its new-found Chinese geo-economic strategy in which this province has a pivotal position, China seems to have changed its decades’ old policy of physically eliminating or torturing non-conforming Uighurs to deniable tactic of de-Islamisation and brainwashing in a closed camp. How many Uighurs are killed or how the inmates are tortured or harassed will not be known outside the camp.
President Xi’s Belt and Road Initiative has straightened authoritarianism in China particularly in Xinjiang. Muslim countries, with whom China has good trade relations, would not speak for Uighurs because their systems are not less authoritarian and sans human rights. Moreover, China’s claim that it is fighting terrorism in Xinjiang helps some Muslim countries who make similar claims to close their eyes to what has been happening in Chinese occupied territory.
In the past Uighur Muslims made some serious attempts to liberate Xinjiang from China. These attempts could not succeed in the face of China’s ferocious Army. But Uighur ‘hearts and minds’ could not be conquered. They still resist Chinese coercion to bring them into communist social mainstream. They refuse to learn and speak Chinese language or sing national songs. They are proud to be Muslims and Turk at the same time, speaking Turkish language.
Pakistanis advise China not to treat Uighurs in such a way that produces counterproductive results. An article in DAWN said China’s policy of suppression is ‘expanding the likelihood of the enemy within’. Does it mean the tolerance of the Muslim in Pakistan of Uighur persecution by China should not be taken for granted any more. The decades-old hero worshipping of the Chinese is gradually giving way to suspicion and anger in Pakistan because of the country’s economic exploitation in the name of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and persecution or Uighur Muslims.