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Pakistan and Turkey’s hypocrisy over Uyghur rights revealed during the Israel-Palestine conflict

China and Pakistan foreign ministers Wang Yi and Shah Mahmood Qureshi (Photo: IANS)

The Israel-Palestine conflict has opened up a can of worms revealing that when it comes to Pakistan and Turkey, their support for Muslim causes is selective, opportunistic and in the end based on cynical geopolitical calculations. Both countries are trying to champion Palestinian rights—an effort which was visible in plain sight during the latest round of fighting between Israel and the Palestinian Hamas, which is confined to Gaza.

But given their embrace of China, the leadership of the two countries remains petrified, unable to displease Beijing, despite the violation of human rights on an industrial scale of the Uyghur Muslim community in Xinjiang. Some countries have labelled the mass incarceration of the Uyghurs by China as genocide.

Pakistan's double standards on supporting Islamic causes were on public display when Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi flew all the way to Turkey on a two-day visit and then to New York to discuss the Palestine issue and the rights of the Muslims in Israel. On his Europe to US flight, he was accompanied by the foreign ministers of Turkey, Palestine and Sudan to lend a collective voice to the repression of the Muslims.

In New York, when asked by CNN as to why Pakistan was not raising the issue of 'genocide' of Uyghurs in China, the Pakistan foreign minister fumbled to answer the question. All that Qureshi could manage was: "… You know China is a very good friend of Pakistan. They have stood by us through thick and thin. And we have means of communication. We use our diplomatic channels. We do not discuss everything in public”.

To Qureshi's discomfiture, the CNN journalist remained insistent and asked again: "… But you can’t just turn a blind eye to human rights abuses in one country. Are there discussions behind the scenes by your Prime Minister Khan?” A re-faced Qureshi could only say: "Ma’am, there’s always a way of doing things. And we are not oblivious of our responsibilities.” The Pakistan foreign minister made it clear that he could not speak against a powerful totalitarian country like China even if it was in the thick of carrying out a 'genocide' of Muslim brethren.

This hypocrisy is not limited to Pakistan alone. Turkey—the other aspirant to global Muslim leadership—sails in the same boat. What is worse is that both the nations have instead helped China in a crackdown upon the runaway Uyghurs. Over the last many years, the two Muslim countries have hounded and deported Uyghurs back to China. It is not difficult to guess what fate awaits the deported Uyghur men and women in China.

Just last month, Human Rights Watch in a 53-page report said that China has detained up to a million Muslim people in its western region as it carries on a campaign of repression against the minority. The report says: " As many as a million people have been arbitrarily detained in 300 to 400 facilities, which include “political education” camps, pretrial detention centres, and prisons. Courts have handed down harsh prison sentences without due process, sentencing Turkic Muslims to years in prison merely for sending an Islamic religious recording to a family member or downloading e-books in Uyghur."

Emboldened with the hypocritical attitude of the Islamic nations, China is exploring an extradition treaty with Turkey. Expectedly, this has sent a shiver among the Uyghur community that has escaped to Turkey.

Media reports suggest that Turkey has agreed to deport Uyghur Muslims in return for covid-19 vaccines. Dilxat Raxit, a spokesperson for the World Uyghur Congress, told AFP earlier this year: "This extradition treaty will cause worry among Uighurs who have fled China and do not yet have Turkish citizenship." Through Turkey has denied these allegations, it is under constant pressure from Beijing about deporting Uyghurs who managed to escape. Over the years it has been sending back the activists that China wants.

In another instance, Uyghur women activists made allegations of rape, torture and forced sterilisations against China on this International Women's Day. They also alleged that Uyghur and Turkic women are forced to marry ethnic Han men. Such serious allegations against the mistreatment of the ethnic minority did not evoke condemnation from the Islamic world.

This curious sentiment of looking the other way over Uyghur rights is now being investigated by the international media. After a new report came out on the human rights violation of the Uyghur community, The Washington Post asked, 'Why do some Muslim-majority countries support China’s crackdown on Muslims?'

Uyghurs—this is one Muslim issue on which both Pakistan and Turkey muffle their high-volume global voices even as they carry on a crusade for the rights of Muslims in other countries. It is important to take up these two countries because Pakistan shares a land link with Xinjiang—the homeland of the persecuted community in China while Turkey hosts the largest Uyghur community with which it shares a common ethnicity.

Like Turkey, Pakistan has been abetting China in its human rights abuses of the Uyghurs. It too sends the escaped Uyghurs back to the Communist regime. With a massive $62 billion project under China's Belt and Road Initiative, Pakistan is one of the few all-weather friends of China. Even when asked on international platforms about the plight of the Uyghurs, the Pakistani government has ended up praising their treatment at the hands of China.

While Pakistan has been vociferous over raising issues like the Charlie Hebdo cartoons of the Prophet in the French media and other perceived insults or violation of rights of the Muslim community in other countries, it has not shown the same courage against China on behalf of the Muslim Uyghurs.

It is not just hypocrisy at play.

The answer lies in both—the power of fear and the lure of money that keeps self-appointed leaders of the Muslim world like Pakistan and Turkey cosy up to China. Both have made the protection of Islam a convenient weapon, which they unleash or keep sheathed as they wish to. The liberal and democratic nations are however a convenient and soft target.