Pakistan demands Kashmir action while ignoring China's Uighurs
Even as Pakistan this week drew international attention to the plight of Muslims in Indian Kashmir, Islamabad stayed conspicuously silent about another embattled Muslim community – China's Uighur population.
Prime Minister Imran Khan has presented himself as a defender of Muslims worldwide and routinely speaks out on the disputed Kashmir region, even comparing Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Adolf Hitler and accusing him of overseeing a genocide.
"We will never accept, and neither will the Kashmiris, the illegal Indian actions and oppression of the Kashmiri people," Khan said Wednesday as Pakistan marked the one-year anniversary of India stripping the Muslim-majority region of its semi-autonomous status.
This week he led a march through Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan-administered Kashmir, as thousands took to the streets across the country.
But even amid mounting evidence of a harsh crackdown on the Uighur population in neighbouring China's Xinjiang region, Khan has refused to be drawn into the domestic affairs of Pakistan's long-time ally.
China's Uighur heartland turns into security state
China says it faces a serious threat from Islamist extremists in its Xinjiang region. Beijing accuses separatists among the Muslim Uighur ethnic minority of stirring up tensions with the ethnic Han Chinese majority. By Nadine Berghausen
Economy or security? China routinely denies pursuing repressive policies in Xinjiang and points to the vast sums it spends on economic development in the resource-rich region. James Leibold, an expert on Chinese ethnic policy says the focus on security runs counter to Beijing's goal of using the OBOR initiative to boost Xinjiang's economy, because it would disrupt the flow of people and ideas
China's far western Xinjiang region ramps up security: three times a day, alarms ring out through the streets of China's ancient Silk Road city of Kashgar and shopkeepers rush out of their stores swinging government-issued wooden clubs. In mandatory anti-terror drills conducted under police supervision, they fight off imaginary knife-wielding assailants
One Belt, One Road Initiative: an ethnic Uighur man walks down the path leading to the tomb of Imam Asim in the Taklamakan Desert. A historic trading post, the city of Kashgar is central to China's "One Belt, One Road Initiative", which is President Xi Jinping's signature foreign and economic policy involving massive infrastructure spending linking China to Asia, the Middle East and beyond
China fears disruption of "One Belt, One Road" summit: a man herds sheep in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region. China's worst fears are that a large-scale attack would blight this year's diplomatic set piece, an OBOR summit attended by world leaders planned for Beijing. Since ethnic riots in the regional capital Urumqi in 2009, Xinjiang has been plagued by bouts of deadly violence
Ethnic minority in China: a woman prays at a grave near the tomb of Imam Asim in the Taklamankan Desert. Uighurs are a Turkic-speaking distinct and mostly Sunni Muslim community and one of the 55 recognised ethnic minorities in China. Although Uighurs have traditionally practiced a moderate version of Islam, experts believe that some of them have been joining Islamic militias in the Middle East
Communist Party vows to continue war on terror: Chinese state media say the threat remains high, so the Communist Party has vowed to continue its "war on terror" against Islamist extremism. For example, Chinese authorities have passed measures banning many typically Muslim customs. The initiative makes it illegal to "reject or refuse" state propaganda, although it was not immediately clear how the authorities would enforce this regulation
CCTV cameras are being installed: many residents say the anti-terror drills are just part of an oppressive security operation that has been ramped up in Kashgar and other cities in Xinjiang's Uighur heartland in recent months. For many Uighurs it is not about security, but mass surveillance. "We have no privacy. They want to see what you're up to," says a shop owner in Kashgar
Ban on many typically Muslim customs: the most visible change is likely to come from the ban on "abnormal growing of beards," and the restriction on wearing veils. Specifically, workers in public spaces, including stations and airports, will be required to "dissuade" people with veils on their faces from entering and report them to the police
Security personnel keep watch: authorities offer rewards for those who report "youth with long beards or other popular religious customs that have been radicalised", as part of a wider incentive system that rewards actionable intelligence on imminent attacks. Human rights activists have been critical of the tactics used by the government in combatting the alleged extremists, accusing it of human rights abuses
Rights groups estimate more than one million Uighurs and other Turkic-speaking minorities have been rounded up into a network of internment camps, which China has branded "re-education centres".
Both Kashmiris and Uighurs have been subjected to curfews, profiling, and a massive presence of security forces along with moves to allow outsiders to settle in their homelands.
"Silence on Uighurs will also cost Pakistan credibility on the Kashmir issue," columnist Huma Yusuf wrote in Pakistan's Dawn newspaper. "Khan has previously argued that the scale of the two issues is different. But this argument will not be enough if Pakistan wants to be perceived as a genuine champion of Muslims' and human rights when speaking on Kashmir."
Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Asia Program at the U.S.-based Wilson Center, said such criticism was "justifiable".
"Pakistan should be held to a higher standard because it accords so much bandwidth and policy space to the plight of Kashmiri Muslims as well as Indian Muslims, while saying nothing about Uighurs," Kugelman said. (AFP)