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‘China is after us’: Pakistan Uighur Muslims report intimidation

Rawalpindi, Pakistan – On a cold winter evening, Mohammad Hassan Abdul Hameed, 34, walks towards his restaurant, past silk stores in the busy China Market in Rawalpindi, Pakistan.  He, like many others here, belongs to the persecuted Uighur community from the Xinjiang province of China.  Abdul Hameed’s father arrived in Rawalpindi 50 years ago to…

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‘China is after us’: Pakistan Uighur Muslims report intimidation

Rawalpindi, Pakistan – On a cold winter evening, Mohammad Hassan Abdul Hameed, 34, walks towards his restaurant, past silk stores in the busy China Market in Rawalpindi, Pakistan. 

He, like many others here, belongs to the persecuted Uighur community from the Xinjiang province of China. 

Abdul Hameed’s father arrived in Rawalpindi 50 years ago to work in a pilgrims’ guesthouse intended for Uighurs heading to Saudi Arabia for the annual Hajj. 

Today, the guesthouse sits abandoned in the market, not far from Abdul Hameed’s restaurant. 

According to members of the community, it was closed down at the request of China in 2006.

Uighurs have been migrating to Pakistan since the late 19th and early 20th centuries, some to work as traders and others escaping communist persecution. 

Today, China’s brutal crackdown on the community has made headlines around the world as up to three million Uighurs are believed to be held in so-called “re-education camps” where they are made to renounce Islam.

In Pakistan, there are around 2,000 Uighurs and for decades they have kept a low profile in the country – so much so that very few people are even aware of their presence.

The Muslim world on the whole, with a few exceptions, has taken a position of studied silence because of a desire not to upset a key global player that offers investments and other useful benefits.
Mohammad Umer Khan, Pakistan-based Uighur activist

But their presence here has not gone unnoticed by China, Pakistan’s “iron brother” and a helping hand at a time of economic crisis. According to the community, China has started putting pressure on Pakistan to silence its critics.

“They want to finish off Uighurs,” Abdul Hameed says, referring to the Chinese. “Here, we cannot do anything according to our wishes because China is after us.”

Beijing has invested $62bn in the construction of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which will connect Kashgar in Xinjiang to the southern Gwadar port in Pakistan. 

China has also promised financial aid to the country, which is desperate to sort out its economic woes. 

Muhammad Hassan Abdul Hameed, left, says his family members in China are being persecuted [Saiyna Bashir/Al Jazeera]

Despite Pakistan frequently highlighting the plight of Muslim minorities across the globe, when it comes to Uighurs, Islamabad does not wish to anger its powerful neighbour.

The Uighurs in Pakistan know too well what goes on in China since many have family members who still reside in Xinjiang. Most have not been able to talk to them for the past two years because they have been held in the camps.

“From our family, 300 people are inside [the camps],” Abdul Hameed says. “Even my brother is inside.”

Others at the China Market have similar stories. 

Abdul Latif, a silk trader, has relatives in Xinjiang. 

“There’s no news about them,” he says. “We can’t call them. If they get a phone call from here, even if they don’t pick it up, after a couple of hours the police will come and ask who called them, what their relationship to them is, how long they have known them, and only with this excuse, they will be picked up.

“If someone dies, there is no one to read the funeral prayers,” he sighs.

“It is such injustice that even injustice itself becomes ashamed,” Abdul Raheem, another trader, interjects, agitated.

Muhammad Adil Obaid from the Uighur community runs his own business in the China Market in Rawalpindi, Pakistan [Saiyna Bashir/Al Jazeera]

According to Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Asia programme at the Wilson Center, the Uighur community in Pakistan is of some concern for China, despite being minuscule in numbers.

“China knows that the plight of Uighurs has already generated major headlines and negatively impacted its global image. So, it doesn’t want Uighurs in Pakistan, where they have more freedom to speak out, bringing more attention to an issue that Beijing wants kept quiet,” he says.

Recently, news broke of the Uighur wives of Pakistani businessmen locked away in internment camps in China. Pakistan’s inaction has infuriated the community, although it has not come as a surprise.

“Pakistan is the greatest friend [of China]. Higher than the skies, deeper than the oceans,” Raheem says.

While Pakistan often laments the plight of Rohingya, Syrian, Kashmiri, and Palestinian Muslims, you rarely hear Islamabad making statements in solidarity with Uighurs.
Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Asia programme at the Wilson Center

Some members of the community say they have started facing harassment and intimidation in Pakistan for being too vocal.

One of them is Abdul Rehman, who requested his real name not be used because of the risks to himself and his family members in China.

“The Chinese government has put everyone here after each other. Me after him, him after me and him after him. We are afraid of each other. We cannot talk openly,” he says.

“The problem here is that there is pressure on the Pakistani government from China and the government of Pakistan puts pressure on us so that we wouldn’t talk about [the issues of] Uighurs in the media here,” Rehman says.

 “The agencies here put pressure on us from their side. They pick us up. They have taken many to safe houses. I am one of them. I was there for 12 days last year,” he continues in a hushed voice.

“They ask us about CPEC, what our opinion is about it. What opinion should we have about it?”

Abdul Raheem, right, a silk trader, is one of around 2,000 Uighurs in Pakistan [Saiyna Bashir/Al Jazeera]

According to Kugelman, CPEC is one of the main reasons that the community has now come under increasing pressure in Pakistan.

“Beijing has ample influence over many things in Pakistan, thanks to its frequent largesse and to the trust it enjoys in Islamabad. China’s leverage has further intensified as it builds out CPEC, a major infrastructure project that’s critically important to Pakistan,” he says.

But China has also repeatedly raised alarm about what it calls “Uighur terrorists” who it believes are plotting attacks against it from the border areas between Pakistan and Afghanistan. 

In 2015, Pakistan said “almost all” fighters had been eliminated in army operations. 

According to Kugelman, the number of Uighur fighters is modest.

“Inflating the threat posed by Uighurs gives Beijing a useful pretext to crack down on them,” he says.

Mohammad Umer Khan, founder of an organisation called Umer Uighur Trust in Rawalpindi, says the problems for him and other Uighurs in Pakistan have increased significantly in recent years.

“There is danger for every one [of us] in Pakistan now,” he says. “Whoever starts saying I am Uighur, I am Turkistani, is in danger.”

He says the problems started in 2006.

Men, who he thought were from Pakistan’s intelligence agencies, would periodically pick him up and detain him for a day or two.

In 2010, Pakistani authorities closed down a school he had set up to teach the Uighur language to the community’s children, he says.

“They used violence against me and they put my name on an ECL (exit control list) so I couldn’t travel anywhere,” Khan says. His name was finally removed from the list in 2014 after he took the matter to the Supreme Court.

About a year ago, he says, he was picked up again and held for around two weeks.

Khan says he was beaten severely which left permanent scars on his left arm. He was subsequently made to sign documents where he promised to no longer protest against China’s policies.

Khan’s account could not be verified because the Interior Ministry of Pakistan did not respond to Al Jazeera’s repeated requests for comments.

“They say I am ruining the friendship between China and Pakistan,” he says.

But Khan says the real issue is not with the Pakistani government. “Definitely [the Chinese] have a hand in it,” he says.

The situation, say analysts, is unlikely to change for the better as long as China continues to hold sway in Pakistan.

“It’s quite striking that while Pakistan often laments the plight of Rohingya, Syrian, Kashmiri, and Palestinian Muslims, you rarely hear Islamabad making statements in solidarity with Uighurs,” Kugelman says.”To be fair to Islamabad, it’s not just Pakistan that’s so hands off.

“The Muslim world on the whole, with a few exceptions, has taken a position of studied silence because of a desire not to upset a key global player that offers investments and other useful benefits.”

The Uighurs are aware of this and are slowly starting to lose hope.

“We have become very disappointed with Muslim countries, especially Arab countries,” Khan says. “After that, we had a lot of hopes from Turkey, but so far they haven’t done anything that big. When it comes to Pakistan, we don’t even have any hopes that they would raise their voice [for us].”

Despite the threats, Khan intends to continue speaking about his community’s problems.

“I am not against Pakistan or CPEC. But injustice is being done to my nation, to my relatives. I speak for their rights,” he says defiantly.

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SULAIMANIYA: An attack by Daesh militants on a village in northern Iraq on Friday killed three villagers and 10 Kurdish soldiers, officials in Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region said. Daesh claimed responsibility for the deadly attack in a statement posted on an affiliated Telegram account.The attack took place in the Makhmour region, a hotbed for Daesh…

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Israel urges hard line against Iran at nuclear talks

SULAIMANIYA: An attack by Daesh militants on a village in northern Iraq on Friday killed three villagers and 10 Kurdish soldiers, officials in Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region said.

Daesh claimed responsibility for the deadly attack in a statement posted on an affiliated Telegram account.The attack took place in the Makhmour region, a hotbed for Daesh activity that sees regular attacks against Kurdish forces, Iraqi forces and often civilians.Makhmour is a mountainous area about 70 km southeast of Mosul and 60 km southwest of the Kurdish capital of Irbil.Kurdistan’s Prime Minister Masrour Barzani called for greater security cooperation between Iraqi Kurdish and Iraqi security forces to stop Daesh’s insurgent activities.Iraqi officials and analysts have long blamed a lack of coordination along a stretch of territory claimed by both Baghdad and Irbil for Daesh’s continued ability to wage deadly attacks.Daesh controlled roughly a third of Iraq between 2014 and 2017, including the remote Makhmour region but also major cities including Mosul.A loose coalition of US-led forces, Iraqi and Kurdish troops and Iran-backed Shiite militias defeated the extremist group in 2017, but its members still roam areas of northern Iraq and northeastern Syria.Western military officials say at least 10,000 Daesh fighters remain in Iraq and Syria.A statement from the Kurdistan region’s armed forces, the peshmerga, said Daesh militants attacked the village in the early hours of Friday killing three residents.It said peshmerga forces intervened, resulting in clashes that killed at least seven of their soldiers.Kurdish security and hospital officials said the final death toll was at least 10 peshmerga soldiers and three villagers.In a separate development, Kurdish demonstrators in The Hague stormed the headquarters of the global chemical weapons body on Friday, sparking clashes in which six people were hurt and 50 arrested, Dutch police said.

FASTFACT

A loose coalition of US-led forces, Iraqi and Kurdish troops and Iran-backed Shiite militias defeated the Daesh extremist group in 2017, but its members still roam areas of northern Iraq and northeastern Syria.

Dozens of protesters alleging that Turkey is using toxic arms in northern Iraq broke through security to enter the grounds of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in The Hague.A number of them managed to get inside the lobby of the building before police removed them, diplomatic sources said, while the rest staged a noisy protest outside the front doors.Police dragged the demonstrators off one by one, put them on the ground and handcuffed them, journalists saw. Some were bundled into waiting vans, but the large number meant many were taken away in a hired bus.At least a dozen police vehicles sealed off the road outside the OPCW, which is opposite Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s official residence. Several ambulances and a medical helicopter were also at the scene.Two police officers and four protesters were wounded when the demonstrators “stormed the building,” The Hague police said.Turkish jets regularly attack the separatists’ bases in northern Iraq and autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan, with several villages having emptied of their inhabitants since a new Turkish army offensive in April.The PKK and Kurdish organizations in Europe have in recent months accused Turkey of using chemical weapons, including a nerve agent and sulfur mustard gas, in dozens of attacks in northern Iraq.“We have called on OPCW and all international bodies to come and independently investigate the use of chemical weapons,” Zagros Hiwa, a spokesperson for the Kurdistan Democratic Communities Union, the PKK’s political branch, told AFP.

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Clashes rock Arab town in Israel, alleged car-rammer killed

Yemeni military commander hopeful of Marib advance after army cuts Houthi supply lines  LONDON: Yemen’s military commander heading army troops in Marib Maj. Gen. Mansour Thawaba said he was hopeful of advancements in the strategic province after Houthi supply lines were cut.  There have been “great advances” in the past two days in Bayhan, Usaylan…

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Clashes rock Arab town in Israel, alleged car-rammer killed

Yemeni military commander hopeful of Marib advance after army cuts Houthi supply lines 

LONDON: Yemen’s military commander heading army troops in Marib Maj. Gen. Mansour Thawaba said he was hopeful of advancements in the strategic province after Houthi supply lines were cut. 

There have been “great advances” in the past two days in Bayhan, Usaylan and Harib, the major general told Al-Arabiya, noting that army forces cut the Houthis’ supply line between Bayhan and Harib.

He explained that military operations continued on all fronts, with the southern front seeing most of the action. He also noted the Saudi-led Arab coalition’s support with airstrikes. 

“Marib is not besieged, and the Houthis are far from achieving this,” he said. 

He added that most of those fighting for the Houthis were children and young men. 

“They do not care about the children of Yemenis who are killed by the dozens every day,” he said, referring to the Houthi militia. 

The coalition announced on Friday night that it had destroyed a ballistic missile launcher south of Sanaa.

The coalition added that it also destroyed a “mine-making workshop” in the capital, stressing that it had taken “preventive measures to spare civilians and civilian structures from collateral damage” during the airstrikes.

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US critics of Israel face challenges in redrawn Congress districts

CHICAGO: Nine members of Congress who have been vocal critics of Israel’s policies towards the Palestinians could face tougher re-election campaigns as a result of their districts being redrawn, an analysis by Arab News shows. Every 10 years, the dominant political parties in many states re-draw district boundaries based on demographic data provided by the…

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US critics of Israel face challenges in redrawn Congress districts

CHICAGO: Nine members of Congress who have been vocal critics of Israel’s policies towards the Palestinians could face tougher re-election campaigns as a result of their districts being redrawn, an analysis by Arab News shows.

Every 10 years, the dominant political parties in many states re-draw district boundaries based on demographic data provided by the US Census, which does not count Arab and Muslim Americans as a separate category.

Where population shifts have led to proposed boundary changes, incumbents may be forced to stand in new districts. That’s the challenge facing Illinois representative Marie Newman, who won election in 2020 in the 3rd Congressional District, which has the largest concentration of Palestinian American voters.

Newman has chosen to face-off with Sean Casten, who is very strong on climate change, in the new 6th District rather than stand against Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, who is one of only two Hispanic congress members in Illinois, in the 4th District. Casten is a strong supporter of Israel and silent on Israeli violence against Palestinians, while Garcia has often joined Newman to support pro-Palestinian legislation, including voting against a bill giving Israel $1 billion for its Iron Dome defense system last September.

“Rep. Newman was supportive of the push to create a second congressional district of Latino influence and understood that doing so would mean the need to shift boundary lines of existing CDs in the Chicagoland area,” Newman campaign spokesperson Ben Hardin said.

Describing the challenges as “inevitable,” Hardin said: “Representative Newman is grateful … to have the support of so many people here in Chicago’s southwest side and in the south and west suburbs, including a strong coalition of supporters from the Arab and Muslim American community.”

The new Illinois district map was approved by Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, one of Israel’s strongest advocates, in November. Pritzker aroused anger among Arab Americans after refusing to apologize for disparaging remarks he made in a 1998 congressional race in which he accused a rival of accepting money from a Muslim group that Pritzker asserted supported terrorists.

“There is no doubt that the Illinois Democrats are seeking to undermine Newman, who has been a vocal supporter of Palestinian, Arab and Muslim rights,” said Hassan Nijem, the president of the American Arab Chamber of Commerce.

“She and Chuy Garcia are the only Illinois Democrats to defend Palestinian rights and recognize our growing community.”

The Illinois primary has been delayed from March until June 28, 2022, because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In addition to Newman and Garcia, seven other members of Congress who voted against the Iron Dome money could be affected by district changes.

They include Cori Bush of Missouri; André Carson of Indiana; Raúl Grijalva of Arizona; Ilhan Omar of Minnesota; Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts; Rashida Tlaib of Michigan; and Thomas Massie of Kentucky, a Republican Congressman who consistently votes against all foreign aid regardless of the recipient.

Tlaib, Pressley and Omar are members of the “Squad,” a group of progressive Democrats that includes New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Instead of voting against the Iron Dome funding, however, AOC voted “present” not taking a position.

In Michigan, which is holding its primary on Aug. 2 next year, mapmakers are proposing to re-draw Tlaib’s 13th district, increasing the number of African American voters. That could be important even though Tlaib defeated several African American candidates when she first ran and won office in the predominantly African American district in 2018.

Tlaib may be forced into a new district against pro-Arab Democrat Debbie Dingell. However, she could survive as the Michigan process puts remapping in the hands of an independent commission rather than partisan politicians. The final Michigan remap might not be completed until late January.

Also in Michigan, proposed changes would pit Jewish Democratic Congressman Andy Levin, who has been an outspoken supporter of the two-state solution for Palestine and Israel, against Brenda Lawrence.

Minnesota congressional remapping plans have targeted Omar and another pro-Palestinian Congresswoman, Betty McCollum, although maps in those districts have not been finalized.

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