Tue, 29 Nov 2022

Rawalpindi [Pakistan], September 25 (ANI): China's campaign against Uyghurs has spilled across its borders, entangling hundreds of Pakistanis who have suffered from China's suppression of Muslims in the Xinjiang territory which is home to about 10 million ethnic Uyghurs.

Alice Su, Shashank Bengali, Shah Meer Baloch, writing in Los Angeles Times, shared a Pakistani father's ordeal - Sakandar Hayat, a garment trader, who, with his wife, raised three children while trapped between the politics and ambitions of two countries.

He and his son Arafat left north-western China and crossed the border into Hayat's native Pakistan. It was a journey to bring father and son closer together. But it would end up tearing their family apart.

The two had been in Pakistan for three weeks when they received a phone call from back home in the Chinese region of Xinjiang. Hayat's wife, an ethnic Uyghur, had been detained. He and Arafat raced to the border, where Chinese police were waiting. They arrested Arafat, a Uyghur like his mother, saying he would be questioned on what he had done in Pakistan.

"Don't separate us," Hayat begged the police. "Question him in front of me. I'll be silent and he will speak the truth.""You'll have your son back in a week," the police told him that day in 2017. Arafat would be lost to him for two years, reported Alice, Bengali, and Baloch.

Hayat's saga reflects how Chinese Leader Xi Jinping's hard-line vision of crushing dissent extends beyond consolidation of power at home to blocking criticism from foreign governments, even when their own citizens are mistreated.

The silence of Pakistan, which has been outspoken on the oppression of Muslims worldwide but has refrained from criticizing China -- a significant economic benefactor and potential provider of COVID-19 vaccines -- reflects how many nations are wary of jeopardizing their ties with Beijing, reported Los Angeles Times.

The Los Angeles Times interviewed four Pakistanis married to Uyghurs who have been separated from their families, two Pakistani Uyghurs who have been threatened by Pakistani security forces, and one Chinese Uyghur who fled abroad via Pakistan after being detained in a camp.

Fearing retaliation from authorities in both countries, several of them asked not to be named, reported Los Angeles Times.

"It is very hard to leave your heart, your children, to live in a place worse than a prison," Hayat said.

After his wife and Arafat, then 19, were detained, Hayat was denied a visa to China for two years. The couple's two daughters, who were 7 and 12 at the time, were sent to an orphanage in Kashgar without his consent.

He pleaded with Chinese and Pakistani officials for information on his family with no response until 2019, when Chinese officials said his son was receiving "education," a euphemism for the camps where Beijing says minorities are receiving "vocational training" to combat "extremism, separatism and terrorism," reported Alice, Bengali, and Baloch.

Those who have been inside the camps tell a different story. Mohammed, an Uyghur from southern Xinjiang who had been doing business between China and Pakistan since the early 2000s, told Los Angeles Times that he had been detained for seven months.

He was arrested when he crossed the border in June 2018, he said, then held in a camp with his hands chained together in a room of 35 people.

Every morning, they woke up at 4 for lectures about the Chinese Communist Party's care for Uyghurs, he said.

"The party is feeding you," he remembered being told. "Uyghurs are nothing without this party. If there was no Communist Party, Uyghurs would have died of hunger."Pakistan is one of many Muslim nations that has refused to criticize China's oppression of Uyghurs. China provides Pakistan with tens of billions of dollars in loans and expands military cooperation, reported Times.

It is also the flagship site for Xi's Belt and Road global infrastructure initiative, which includes a 2,000-mile "China-Pakistan Economic Corridor" of roads and railways from Kashgar to the Arabian Sea.

Given this relationship, Pakistan has always felt "obliged to be accommodating" with Chinese requests, "even when it wasn't entirely comfortable," reported Alice, Bengali, and Baloch.

Rich in minerals, gas and oil, the vast region is dotted with concentration camps where Chinese authorities have locked up more than a million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities, according to human rights groups, survivors, victims' families and United Nations experts. (ANI)

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