By Irfan Khan
MAY 9, 2019
During an interview with the Financial Times in March, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan was asked how he felt about China’s treatment of Uighur Muslims. He replied, “Frankly, I don’t know much about that,” suggesting that he was unqualified to comment. Maybe he does not know anything about the religious minority. But it is also a subject that is conspicuously avoided in Pakistani journalism. None of the media outlets have covered the persecution of Uighur Muslims in China’s Xinjiang province.
Muhammad Zaman, an opinion contributor to Pakistan’s Express Tribune newspaper, tweeted, “For the last several years, my op-eds have appeared every Tuesday in the Tribune, except today when I wrote about Uighurs. I was told my op-ed was being “pulled out” because of the sensitivity of the matter. He then published it on Twitter instead.
His story was about Uighur Muslims being subjected to state persecution in China. They are deprived of their basic religious rights. They are forced to give up Islamic norms and customs. Pakistan has always condemned India’s state terrorism in Kashmir and Israeli atrocities in Palestine. However, Pakistan and other majority Muslims countries never protest China’s treatment of Uighur Muslims.
The Uighur people belong to the Turkic ethnic group native to the Altay Mountains in Central Asia, where they were dominant from the 8th century to the 18th century. The Manchu invasion in the 1800s and nationalist and communist forces from China and Russia have caused the Uighur culture to fall into decline. Prior to the advent of Islam, they embraced Buddhism, Shamanism, and Manicheism. From the 10th century onward, however, most have been Sunni Muslims. They live mostly in their homeland, the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region in China. Minority Uighur populations also reside in Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and other countries.
Today they are facing religious restrictions, detentions and even execution at the hands of the Chinese authorities. Uighurs from all walks of life have been denied the right to fast during Ramadan and been forbidden to wear traditional dress. The Chinese government has declared them outlaws and terrorists.
According to the BBC, in August 2018, the United Nations said that at least one million Uighur Muslims, among other Muslim groups, were detained in Xinjiang. The UN said they were undergoing “re-education” – a euphemism for being forced to learn Mandarin and renounce their faith.
In March, China blocked a Security Council resolution declaring Masood Azhar a terrorist. Azhar is the founder and leader of the Pakistan-based terrorist organization Jaish-e-Mohammed, which is fighting to free Muslim Kashmiri citizens from Indian rule. However, Pakistan and other Muslim countries have failed to condemn the treatment of China’s Uighur Muslims, who are similarly oppressed.