Authorities in the South Asian country have done an internal assessment to gauge the public mood. The assessment was done to get a first-hand view on the issue which is now getting an increased global spotlight.
This is a significant development– since not much public concern has been raised on China’s Uighur Muslims in Pakistan, which can be largely controlled. But religious journals have taken note, and this could soon be a problem in conservative Pakistan.
The main objective of the Pakistani assessment was to manage the reaction and also control any overt activity that may cause embarrassment for both Pakistan and China on the Uighur issue.
The Pakistani government has been silent on the issue with PM Imran Khan shying away from any criticism against ‘all-weather’ ally China. Earlier this year, when asked about the situation of Uighur Muslims in China, Imran Khan said, “China has been a great friend, we talk about things privately, not publicly, as these are sensitive issues.”
The study noted the treatment of Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang has especially impacted religious opinion in Pakistan with a number of journals covering the development.
In one issue of monthly Ishraq from Lahore dated January 2020, a comment by its patron Javed Ahmed Ghamidi, while mentioning about the right to seek refuge, gave an example of ‘persecution of Muslims in China.’
An article in weekly Ahl-E-Hadith from Lahore mentions about state policies of China against its Muslim population and compares it with the severity of Israeli actions against the Palestinians.
Discussing Xinjiang in the context of atrocities against Muslims globally has been a common pattern among religious journals, the assessment finds.
The editorial of monthly Mohaddis from Lahore, in the month of February 2020, commented that Muslims in Xinjiang are living a hard life with Muslim majority decreasing from 94 percent in 1948 to 48 percent as they’re being ‘forced to abandon Islam.’
Another article in the same monthly on page 24 equated ‘national interest considerations’ forcing Pakistan to be silent on ‘concerns about Muslims in China,’ something that also led Islamabad ‘to facilitate the US against Afghanistan in 2001.’
In November 2019, Mohaddis had shared its concerns over restrictions in Xinjiang on Muslims growing beard and this undermining of Islamic symbols becoming the new normal.
The same issue was raised by monthly Peyam, published from Islamabad in the same month, last year. Al Burhan’s article of October 2019, while writing about the issue, highlighted that there are sanctions over fasting in the month of Ramzan.
Two exclusive articles in two religious journals during the time period of the study done by authorities map detailed the life of the Chinese province.
Al Burhan published a detailed account of Uighur Muslims in three consecutive issues. The account was a personal observation of Pakistani academics about Xinjiang, who described the ground situation as ‘technology-based slavery’ and called the province a ‘police state’ with ‘every home, street and neighbourhood being a detention centre, every Uighur a suspect and presumed terrorist.’
The writer pointed out, ‘systematic effort to sideline Uighur Muslims and their cultural symbols and gradually bring them to extinction.’ He narrated how ‘young Uighurs have Chinese spouses and adopted the Chinese way of life.’
The author, in fact, referred to police presence visible in Capital Urumqi and other parts of Xinjiang. Apart from keeping an eye physically, surveillance is done through a network of security cameras, biometrics and unwanted activity mean swift action including electric shock.
He also sensed frustration among Uighur Muslims from Pakistan as they expected a word of sympathy from the country.
Mohaddis in November 2019 had published an exclusive write up with the title ‘Condition of Muslims in Chinese province Xinjiang in the light of international media reports’ and stated problems for the Muslim population, which started in 1949.
It also noted killing of 75000 Muslims by Chinese forces in the province in 1966. The incident started with Chinese authorities trying to stop local Muslims for Eid ul Azha in Kashgar, one of the westernmost cities of the country.
The article states that copies of the Holy Quran have been forcibly confiscated and around a million minority Muslims have been kept in detention camps. It also cites the Human Rights Watch report which says, every Muslim has to download an official Chinese application in cellphone which allows Chinese authorities to know all the details of the person. A complete record of every Muslim between the age of 12 to 65 has been prepared including their DNA, fingerprints.
Some journals have been raising questions over the silence by Muslim governments, according to the study.
Monthly Tarjuman Ul Quran, from Lahore, published an article in December 2019, titled, “Attention-seeking issue of Uighur Muslims” says will Pakistani Muslims respect Chinese territorial integrity, they also feel Uyghur Muslims should be respected and that will help increase China’s internal security and send a message of goodwill across the Muslim world. Tarjuman Ul Quran highlighting how Muslim ummah has a geographical unity and includes ‘Chinese Turkestan,’ the other name of Xinjiang.
Weekly Al Aitisam from Lahore in February 2020, expressed concerns over reports regarding Muslims in Xinjiang and cited BBC reports and viral social media videos.
It noted complete silence and indifference of Muslim governments over the situation of Uyghur Muslims. September 2019 issue of monthly Uswah Hasana from Karachi made supplication on the occasion of the new Islamic year and sought blessing of God for Muslims living in difficult conditions in areas including in China.
Mainstream Pakistani media has been by and large silent on the issue on expected lines, Dawn in its editorial in November 2020 said, “like many other countries, Pakistan too has a spotty human rights record, but when it can speak out against the human rights violations of the Kashmiris and the Rohingya, can it stay silent about the Uyghurs?”
The Pakistani authorities in the assessment found prominent religious leaders have commented on the subject. While they are cautious on the issue, they expect the Pakistani government to raise the concern with the Chinese leadership through diplomatic channels.
One cleric Rashdi in his column titled “Rohingya Muslims and the verdict of the international court of justice” pointed out that Muslim genocide is not confined to Arkan in Myanmar but other parts of the world including Xinjiang.
In fact, renowned scholar Mufti Muhammad Taqi Usmani in a tweet on December 28th, 2019 had said, “News regarding China’s Uighur community is very disturbing. The government of Pakistan must confirm this news and reach out to Chinese authorities using its influence to win justice for the Uighurs.” At a time of collective silence, the tweet does raise the eyebrows for the authorities.
چین کے #ایغور مسلمانوں کے بارے میں تشویشناک خبریں آرہی ہیں حکومت پاکستان کا فرض ہے کہ وہ انکی تحقیق کرے اور چین میں اپنے اثر ورسوخ کو استعمال کرکے مسلمانوں کو انصاف دلائے حديث ميں ہے کہ مسلمان مسلمان کا بھائی ہوتا ہے وہ کسی مسلمان کو بے یارومددگار نہیں چھوڑتا
— Muhammad Taqi Usmani (@muftitaqiusmani) December 28, 2019
The study comes even as the Pakistan government had to face embarrassment over the leaked reports of the Independent power commission that highlighted Chinese companies were charging rates higher than even local Pakistani companies.
The commission was constituted by Pakistani government to evaluate CPEC power projects and while the report was suppressed locally, it got coverage in international media.