Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan recently dodged a question on the detention of as many as two million Muslims in the western Chinese region of Xinjiang, saying he “didn’t know much” about the issue. Khan said that even if the allegations on China are true, he would raise the issue in private rather than criticizing China publicly. Khan’s comments to the FT mirror remarks he made to TRT World in January, when he said he “didn’t know the exact situation” in Xinjiang. Instead, he praised Beijing for its assistance since he came to power in 2018.
It has exposed the hypocrisy of Pakistan and its leaders, who always try to claim to be the champions of Muslim rights around the world. Khan, whose government is a major beneficiary of Chinese aid, knows that they can’t annoy China as it is the only country which till now is supporting its terror activities. Recently Beijing blocked another move at the UN to designate Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Masood Azhar as a global terrorist which proved that China is loath to upset its “all-weather” friendship with Islamabad.
In February, Turkey became one of the first major Muslim nations to denounce the camps in Xinjian, describing them as a “great shame for humanity.” But Pakistan with close economic and diplomatic links to China has refrained from speaking out. Multiple witnesses from inside the camps describe facilities resembling prisons, physical and mental abuse, and compulsory rote lessons in Communist Party propaganda. China has acknowledged the existence of the camps but disputes the number of people held in them.
Pakistan has also benefited greatly from Chinese infrastructure spending, as part of President Xi Jinping’s global Belt and Road initiative and is one of Beijing’s biggest arms buyers. Between 2008 and 2017, Islamabad purchased more than $6 billion of Chinese weaponry, according to think tank CSIS. Pakistan would not speak out for fear of angering an ally which is providing billions in loans and investment. There are media reports of inmates being forced to eat pork and drink alcohol, which are forbidden to Muslims, as well as reports of torture and death, but the so-called champion of Muslim rights – Pakistan – is silent.
The Chinese government justifies its clampdown on the Uighurs and Muslim minorities by saying it’s trying to eradicate extremism and separatist groups. But while attacks, some violent, by Uighur separatists have occurred in recent years, there’s little evidence of any cohesive separatist movement — with jihadist roots or otherwise — that could challenge the Chinese government.
On the other hand, Muslims in India form the largest religious minority in the country. According to the 2011 Census, they comprise 14.4 per cent of India’s total population — roughly 174 million people. To use the word ‘minority’ for them, therefore, is misleading: they are the third-largest Muslim population anywhere in the world, after Indonesia and Pakistan. Muslims in India occupy various important positions in the state and the society. India is officially a secular state where the rights of religious minorities are enshrined in the constitution.