Pakistan supports Uyghur repression in China for economic aid

Pakistan’s deteriorating economic situation and the growing global isolation due to fostering terrorism has made its Prime Minister Imran Khan swallow a bitter pill. Khan supported China on its policy regarding Xinjiang. Many countries have boycotted the Beijing Olympics as a mark of protest against the brutal suppression of Uyghur Muslims and other ethnic minorities by the Chinese government. This comes as a big embarrassment for Khan, who has long projected himself as a champion of Islamic causes. Observers feel the growing dependence on China for economic aid and diplomatic support is the major reason that Pakistani leadership is left with no option but to publicly commit to China’s policies even though they are responsible for the genocide of Uygur Muslims.

Many human rights groups had demanded the boycott of the Olympics event. United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Denmark, Belgium, Japan, Lithuania, Slovenia, New Zealand, Australia and a few other countries have announced the diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Olympics event citing “ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity” in Xinjiang and other parts of China. Uyghurs living outside China also sought support from the world against the ill-treatment of the ethnic minority. “China stop the genocide. Muslims don’t sleep, stand up for your brothers” chanted the protesters.

Even a Turkish ski jumper used the flag of the independence movement of East Turkestan (Xinjiang) on his skis during an Olympics game to speak out against the repression of Uyghur Muslims in China.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu expressed concerns about the treatment of the Uyghur during the meeting with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi in Beijing. However, Imran Khan did the opposite. He welcomed Chinese policies of repression in Xinjiang. Every successive government in Pakistan has been vocal about the discrimination or suppression of Muslims anywhere in the world– be it Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar, French newspaper publishing caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad or alleged atrocities in Indian-administered Kashmir. However, Pakistan has always turned a blind eye to Uyghurs’ plight. Now, it is rather backing China, and even radical Muslim leaders in Pakistan are unwilling to speak out. If Pakistan were to criticise China, it would be very powerful and effective, considering its position of influence within the Muslim world. Pakistan is a major player in the Organisation for Islamic Cooperation (OIC), a powerful intergovernmental organisation representing 57 Muslim nations.

Pakistan’s economy is in shatters. The country’s external debt is increasing, foreign reserves are depleting, inflation is surging at an alarming level and the current account deficit is widening. It puts Pakistan at the risk of getting bankrupt. The US is distancing itself from Pakistan after it had to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan. Financial aid from the US to Pakistan has seen a sharp decline in the past few years, leaving Islamabad in the lurch. In such a scenario, Pakistan had to rely more on its all-weather friend China for financial and diplomatic help. However, it came at a great cost. Islamabad has to agree with Beijing on every matter, even if it is about the persecution of Muslims. During the recent visit to China, Imran Khan accepted that Pakistan would support Beijing’s every policy unconditionally. “The Pakistan side underscored that Pakistan-China relationship is the cornerstone of its foreign policy and that closest friendship with China enjoys the abiding support of the people of Pakistan. Both sides reiterated their support on issues concerning each other’s core interests,” read the joint statement by China and Pakistan.

A request for USD 3 billion loan was on Imran Khan’s agenda during his recent visit to China. Moreover, he sought more investment under the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which may help revive Pakistan’s economy and reduce the growing influence of India and the US. The conditions put forward by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank for loans are stringent while the Chinese loan terms are confidential and often leads to corruption. Since Chinese loans are out of public scrutiny, it is convenient for Pakistani leaders to easily get them. Pakistani economist Kaiser Bengali asserted that the Islamic country had become 100 percent dependent on China. “While the conditions of the IMF are made public, China keeps the terms and conditions of loans and projects secret, which leads to suspicions,” he said. Imran Khan has in the past too preferred the Chinese version to Uyghurs’ fight. Now, every major country is trying to hold China accountable for the documented oppression of Uyghurs, Khan’s deafening silence defies the principles of Muslim brotherhood.