There’s both good and bad news from Pakistan. The good news is that Prime Minister Imran Khan, who just two years ago feigned ignorance on the ongoing religious persecution of Uighur Muslims in China, by saying he “didn’t know much about it,” is today fully conversant with this issue. The bad news is that last week, when interviewer Jonathan Swan asked him, “Prime Minister, why are you outspoken about Islamophobia in Europe and the US but totally silent about the genocide of Muslims in Western China,” instead of relying on independent assessment by a non-partisan organisation like UN, he has by saying that “this is not the case, according to them [Chinese authorities,” willy-nilly admitted that on the issue of Uighur Muslim being persecuted by Beijing, Islamabad prefers to believe the ‘accused’ rather than an independent ‘jury’, but more on this later.
The next good news is that by vociferously condemning Islamophobia in all forums, Khan is gaining popularity as a dedicated bulwark against this global scourge, gifted with the courage of conviction to name and shame the perpetrators. The bad news is that by admitting that “Whatever issues we have with the Chinese, we speak behind closed doors,” the cricketer turned politician has himself exposed the parochial character of his much-hyped anti-Islamophobia campaign. So, while Khan may continue raving and ranting on this issue, it’s very unlikely that the international community will take a serious note of his incessant utterances since they are patently motivated by extraneous factors.
Beijing may outrightly dismiss reports of institutionalised religious persecution of Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang Autonomous Region of China and this view may have unconditional support of Islamabad, but there’s an abundance of credible evidence to the contrary. Infact, Khan’s current “we speak behind closed doors” statement echoes the same sentiment as the one made last year in which he said, “China has been a great friend, we talk about things privately, not publicly, as these are sensitive issues.” Khan may be thinking that he is successfully extricating himself from potentially disconcerting situations by his non-incriminating replies. However, the fact of the matter is that by admitting that religious persecution and physical brutalisation of Uighurs in China “are sensitive issues” and thus discussed “privately… behind closed doors,” Khan has himself admitted [albeit unwittingly] that all’s not well in Xinjiang!
Readers may recall that in June 2016, on a request from Beijing, Pakistan had, sent a high-powered delegation headed by the Director General of Research, Ministry of Religious Affairs comprising a cleric of Islamabad’s Faisal Mosque, as well as two other religious scholars on a two-day visit to Xinjiang. According to media reports, this team found nothing amiss. The Express Tribune, quoted “a senior official of the ministry, who spoke on condition of anonymity,” telling the newspaper “That during the visit, the delegation held meetings with religious scholars in China and local people in Xinjiang.” He also said that a member of the delegation had confirmed that “During the visit, it was found that the Muslim community [in Xinjiang) has complete religious freedom and they are free to perform their religious duties.”
Pakistan’s 2016 ‘fact-check’ visit to Xinjiang raises two questions. One, why did the “senior official” of the Religious Affairs Ministry reveal the positive message that all’s well with Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang’on “condition of anonymity”? What compelled the harbinger of such good news decide to conceal his identity? If one correlates related events then the answer to this perplexing question may not be very difficult to find. Media reports suggest that an exercise to gauge public opinion regarding Uighur persecution in Xinjiang was undertaken in Pakistan last year and this study revealed that while this issue wasn’t a matter of serious concern as the state-controlled media was extremely cautious while reporting on this subject, indignation on persecution of Uighurs in religious publications was palpable and on the rise.
Secondly, a 2019 article in Beijing’s mouthpiece Global Times mentions that consequent to a meeting with representatives from China’s eight Islamic associations, Beijing had passed a five-year plan to ‘sinicize’ Islam as “the participants agreed to guide Islam to be compatible with socialism and implement measures to ‘sinicize’ the religion.” Though the author attempted to sugar-coat this sacrilegious decision by hailing it as “China’s important act to explore ways of governing religion in modern countries,” the mere thought of changing the tenets of a religion by ‘sinicizing’ it so that Islam becomes “compatible with socialism” is revolting! So, could the anonymously conveyed news to the media about the fantastic life Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang were leading was actually a motivated leak by the establishment intended to peddle a bundle of lies without taking official responsibility for the same?
Besides the religious delegation, Mumtaz Zahra Baloch, the Charge d’affaires at Pakistan’s Embassy in China, who too had visited Xinjiang in 2019 as part of a guided tour for diplomats organised by Beijing said that she “did not find any instance of forced labour or cultural and religious repression.” Baloch also disclosed that “The imams we met at the mosques and the students and teachers at the Xinjiang Islamic Institute told us that they enjoy freedom in practicing Islam and that the Chinese government extends support for maintenance of mosques all over Xinjiang.”
Most importantly, the Pakistani Charge d’affaires revealed that “I did not see any sign of cultural repression. The Uyghur culture as demonstrated by their language, music and dance is very much part of the life of the people of Xinjiang.” Baloch’s observations raise a very pertinent question- when Islamabad has such clinching first-hand evidence from ‘ground zero’ that no atrocities whatsoever are being committed against Uighurs by Chinese authorities [as being claimed by the whole world], instead of fumbling for an answer, why doesn’t Khan cite the findings of the religious delegation and diplomat when he is questioned on persecution of Uighurs?
Being the Prime Minister, there’s no way that Khan would be unaware of the horrors Uighur Muslims of Xinjiang are going through under the garb of Beijing’s move to “sinicize” Islam and make it “compatible with socialism.” So, could Khan’s comic response of talking about “closed door” confabs on the issue of Uighur persecution be just a desperate attempt to keep Beijing in good humour as well as salvage his own shaky image as the world’s leading anti-Islamophobia crusader?