Millennium Post

Stifling the Uighurs

China must address its own backyard before being extra vocal on Indian affairs

It is a well-known fact that China has been on a repressing mode in silencing the dissent in Tibet by resorting to inhuman methods including severe torture, the extermination of a large number of dissenters and other measures to muzzle their voice. Their political and religious freedoms were brutally suppressed and the exercise has been going on for the last over six decades. There has also been a calculated move to change the demographic pattern to convert the Tibetans into a minority by bringing in Chinese populace into capital Lhasa and other adjoining places.

On the lines of Tibet, the Chinese government has unleashed a form of terror amongst the Uighur community too who are living in the western province of Xinjiang. Uighurs ethnically have no similarity with the Chinese culture, literature, religion or way of living. They are a distinctly different class who have been legitimately demanding an independent state to be called East Turkestan. They are Muslims and their religious liberty is constantly under threat as Chinese security agencies have been crushing Uighurs with an iron hand. Uighurs, labelled as terrorists, are facing endless persecution and there has not been an iota of economic development in the Xinjiang region nor are there signs of any future promise, related to any development. This has led to the Uighur community living in alienation, and in an abject state of neglect.

It is quite interesting to watch that Pakistan which is crying hoarse to the 'plight' of Kashmiri Muslims, remain pathologically quiet on the atrocities committed on Uighurs. Not a trace of protest or solidarity is ever heard on part of Pakistan drawing the attention of the Chinese on the excesses against this Muslim minority in China. This is obviously because of Pakistan's geopolitical proximity towards China, as also due to apprehension of economic losses that it might incur in case China is annoyed and eventually turns indifferent to Pakistan's interests.

It is common knowledge that Pakistan has been extending all kind of support and help to Kashmiri separatists and Afghan rebels for several decades but it has systematically ignored Uighurs. It's noteworthy that Syed Ali Shah Geelani, the activist of the Kashmiris' separatist movement, had appealed to the international community, in particular to the Islamic world, to speak for the Uighur Muslims but Pakistan yet again chose to be silent lest it incurred the wrath of China. Maintaining such shameful silence comprehensively exposes Pakistan's hypocrisy and double standards. It seems more glaring today than before, in light of Pakistan's nervous slew of reactions noticed recently with regard to fresh developments in Kashmir. Uighurs or their lamentable conditions do not find mention in any of the Pakistani statements. More interestingly, Pakistan's staunch ally, President Erdogan of Turkey, who has been so vocal on Kashmir affairs, is also silent on the ongoing highhandedness on the Uighurs, though a large number of Uighurs are living in Turkey and they consider themselves closer to the Turkish culture.

Meanwhile, there had been a series of voices heard from non-Muslim supporters of the Uighurs' cause, the world over. Sarah Brooks of the International Service for Human Rights, recently stated that what's happening in Xinjiang is the wholesale destruction of a minority people and a culture starting from the razing of the Uighurs' religious sites, to the separation of families, incentives for inter-religious marriages and incarceration of more than 300 intellectuals.

Experimenting with Uighurs, the Chinese authorities, in the recent past, ran several camps which were accessed by the BBC and CNN international news channels. The Chinese authorities, however, now claim that all the camps are shut down and they were initially instituted with the primary aim of holding de-radicalisation programmes. The foreign media, on the other hand, allege that they were regular internment camps and many had confided to the reporters that large scale excesses on the Uighurs were an ongoing process in the Xingjiang province by the Chinese law enforcers curbing their movements and religious freedom of nearly one million ethnic Uighurs in China.

Erkin Tuniyaz, Vice Governor of Xinjiang province, described these camps as vocational centres to help the Uighurs to escape from 'extreme' influences. This claim looks exaggerated and contradicts independent views that the camps were run as internment centres. Crucially, Tuniaz is not accepted as the voice of Uighurs as he is largely seen as a mere puppet of the Chinese government. Further, Shohrat Zakir, Chairman of the Xinjiang Uighurs Autonomous Region, did not rule out rampant abuses inside the camps. In the absence of any credibility on part of Zakir, one thing is clear that the camps were indeed run confirming suspicions that all is not well with the Uighurs within China hence it necessitated yet another experimentation to rein them in.

In the meantime, back in Geneva, Dolkun Isa, president of the exiled World Uighur Congress led a protest on the sidelines of Human Rights Council meet a couple of months ago. Isa also castigated China for hiding the reality of the state of affairs of the Uighurs in their western province.

China, which has been extra vocal in happenings in India, apparently to express 'solidarity' with Pakistan needs to first take a look at its own backyard where simmerings in Hongkong and Xinjiang as Uighurs' sufferings go unabated. After its own house is set in order and problems fixed, it could possibly then point accusing fingers on the internal affairs of any sovereign country. The diabolical approach in supporting terrorists and terror activities emanating from Pakistan, and condoning their misadventures do not behove China as a responsible country.

(The author is a retired IPS officer and a security analyst who was also the National Security Advisor to the Prime Minister of Mauritius. The views expressed are strictly personal)

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