ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s Minister for Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony, Noorul Haq Qadri, on Saturday denied media reports that he had voiced concerns about the Muslim Uighur community residing in China, during a meeting with Beijing’s top diplomat in Islamabad, earlier this week.
China has been widely criticized for alleged rights abuses against Muslims in the Xinjiang province, with reports saying that members of the community are detained, tortured and restricted from practicing their religion freely.
Despite international umbrage over the issue, Pakistan has so far avoided commenting on the matter due to its close proximity with China. “This [the Uighur issue] was not discussed,” Qadri told Arab News while discussing details about his interaction with Ambassador Yao Xing on Wednesday.
He added that, instead, the meeting focused on measures to institutionalize an exchange program for moderate Islamic scholars. “We will soon sign an MoU [Memorandum of Understanding] on the exchange of scholars,” he said, adding that the objective of the proposed program was “to promote moderation”.
So far, the Chinese Embassy in Islamabad hasn’t issued any official statement pertaining to the meeting. However, ministry spokesperson Imran Siddique – in comments made to Arab News earlier – had said that Qadri was interested in China’s curriculum for Muslim students and that the meeting also explored the possibility of development work in Pakistan’s northwestern region which was previously under the Federally Administered Tribal Areas.
Siddique denied reports that China was planning internment camps for Muslims, saying that the delegation of religious scholars would be able to judge if the Chinese Muslims actually faced serious challenges or not. “China’s enemy is Pakistan’s enemy,” he said, sharing excerpts of Qadri’s conversation with the Chinese envoy. “Pakistan has also taken a clear stance on the economic corridor and maintained that Islamabad will not compromise on the project.”
He added that ambassador Xing was more interested in discussing the deprivations of people in Pakistan’s former tribal territories and looking for ways to address them. He talked in detail about empowering women and girls by way of providing education, medical and health facilities in the area.
Qadri’s meeting with ambassador Xing was held against the backdrop of an interview which saw Prime Minister’s Advisor on Commerce Abdul Razak Dawood in attendance. Dawood, on his part, suggested that his country could suspend some of the projects under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) for a year to “review or renegotiate agreements” under the arrangement and “get our act together”.
The talks coincided with a meeting between Army Chief Qamar Javed Bajwa and President Xi Jinping, in Beijing on Thursday, wherein they agreed not to compromise on the security for CPEC-related projects.
Chinese officials have always denied allegations that they mistreat the Muslim minority in Xinjiang, with one Bureau of Human Rights Affairs official saying that his country was only educating Muslims to avoid spreading extremism.