500 Uyghur wives of Pakistani traders are allegedly in Chinese ‘re-education’ camps, leading to growing chorus in Pakistan against ‘all-weather’ friend.
New Delhi: Dozens of Pakistani men are up in arms demanding to know the whereabouts of their Uyghur Muslim wives who have gone missing in China.
Human rights activists say an estimated one million Uyghur Muslims, including women, are incarcerated in ‘re-education camps’ in China.
Mirza Imran Baig, a trader whose Uyghur Muslim wife was one of those allegedly picked up by Chinese authorities, told Reuters in September that she had been detained in a “re-education camp” in Bachu county in May and June 2017. She has not been able to leave home since.
Men like Baig are finding support from important voices in Pakistan.
Zaid Hamid, a Pakistani veteran of the anti-Soviet war in Afghanistan waged during most of the 1980s, and believed to be very close to the Pakistani military establishment, put out an openly critical tweet about the situation Friday.
Hamid said Chinese authorities in the Xinjiang province had captured the Uyghur Muslim wives of Pakistani traders, and demanded the Chinese government explain its actions and immediately release those who had been allegedly detained.
Dear Chinese govt, we demand an explanation here….and release of wives of Pakistani traders arrested in Sinkiang.
Nearly 500 Pakistani traders have been destroyed when their Uighur wives and children arrested, businesses closed for fear of Islam…#ReleaseFamiliesOfPakstanis pic.twitter.com/8UoYqMv2IJ
— Zaid Hamid (@ZaidZamanHamid) October 19, 2018
“China had destroyed the lives of nearly 500 Pakistani traders. Chinese authorities in the Xinjiang province had captured the wives of Pakistani traders who belonged to the Uyghur Muslim community and closed their businesses fearing the influence of Islam in the country, Zaid Hamid said.
Hamid’s tweet comes in the wake of a Human Rights Watch report which censured Beijing’s crackdown on its rebellious ethnic communities, ranging from the Tibetans to the Uyghurs and several others.
Pakistan’s “all-weather relationship” with China has meant that Islamabad has refrained from criticising Beijing about this and several other sensitive issues.
China has poured more than $60 billion into Pakistan through the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), building industrial cities and hoping to make Pakistan’s economy a key element of its own ambitious vision to become a world power.
Pakistan’s nuclear and missile programmes are widely acknowledged to be a copycat version of the Chinese. The pejorative phrase “a client state” is sometimes used by Western analysts for Pakistan’s relationship with Beijing.
But China has also made it clear that it won’t tolerate any religious or ethnic challenges to the Communist state.
Imran Khan’s visit
The fact that Hamid is seen to be very close to the Pakistani military establishment shows the growing unease inside Pakistan. Army chief Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa was in Beijing recently. Prime Minister Imran Khan will be in China for a three-day visit from 3 November.
Certainly, the Pakistan government remains worried. Minister for foreign affairs Noorul Haq Qadri met Chinese ambassador to Pakistan Yao Xing in September to discuss the treatment of Uyghurs by Chinese authorities.
Hamid’s tweet, coming on the eve of Imran Khan’s visit, is seen by some as a possible attempt to push the Chinese to take some action on the humanitarian front.
The world reacts
The “missing” Uyghur wives of Pakistani traders who operate along the Karakoram highway and across the Pakistani border into Xinjiang province, have been the focus of several media reports recently.
The crisis was highlighted by Lord Nazir Ahmed of Rotherham — the first Muslim life peer appointed to the British House of Lords. In a letter dated 20 August, Ahmed wrote to the Chinese ambassador to Britain about the detention of 38 Pakistani Muslims living in China, who had allegedly had their Chinese wives forcibly snatched from their houses in Xinjiang.
Ahmed had tweeted in August:
Forced #abduction & #disappearence in the name of re-education of these #Chinese women who choose to become #Muslims. First #Tibet, now #Uyghurs #muslims & #christians. @UNHumanRights, @pid_gov, @zlj517, @hrw & @amnesty needs to break their silence.
My letter is attached.. pic.twitter.com/0jZsJC0Bjs
— Lord Nazir Ahmed (@nazir_lord) August 21, 2018
Muslims in India and Bangladesh have staged protests against the hostilities faced by Uyghur Muslims at the hands of Chinese authorities. Kazakhstan, which is home to a large Muslim population, also lobbied its government for help, Wall Street Journal reported.
Beijing has also been strongly condemned by the West over the issue.
Who are the Uyghurs?
The Uyghurs are an ethnic minority residing in the far western province of Xinjiang. They are reported to be more closely associated to the central Asian nations and follow Islam. The Uyghurs are said to have faced historical discrimination and atrocities at the hands of Chinese authorities, due to several political factors.
In August, the United Nations had said it had received reports that claimed over one million Uyghurs were living in ‘re-education’ camps set up by Chinese authorities for the purpose of ‘de-extremisation’ of the country.
The international community had condemned China, citing religious hostility and intolerance.
China claimed all these allegations were false, but on 9 October, it passed a law legalising ‘re-education’ camps that Beijing had earlier claimed did not exist.
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