Chinese authorities have reportedly detained a number of Uighur women who are married to Pakistani men in the South Asian country's northern Gilgit-Baltistan region. The move has angered the locals, Sattar Khan reports.
Anti-China sentiments are running high in Pakistan's northern Gilgit-Baltistan area over the arrests of China-born Uighur Muslim women married to the locals. These women have reportedly been arrested inside China in the past few months over alleged links to extremists.
Due to Xinjiang's proximity to Gilgit-Baltistan, the residents of the two areas have shared long historical, cultural and family ties. Many Uighurs are married to the Gilgit-Baltistan locals and vice-versa. The arrests of Uighur women from Gilgit-Baltistan could be a result of China's suspicion of their alleged association to Islamist extremists.
Uighur Muslims, a Turkic-speaking minority in China's northwestern Xinjiang province, have long faced persecution by the country's communist authorities. They are a distinct and mostly Sunni Muslim community and one of the 55 recognized ethnic minorities in China. However, the Uighurs feel increasingly suppressed and view Beijing as a "colonizing power" attempting to undermine their cultural identity, political rights, religion and exploit their region's natural resources.
In the past few years, the Chinese government has acted strictly against the separatists in Xinjiang. This has pushed many Uighurs towards radicalization and militancy. The situation is also becoming aggravated due to the fact that Uighur separatism is not only an ethnic movement but also has a religious dimension to it.
The Uighur issue is generally viewed as an internal Chinese security problem but some experts argue that it should also be looked at in the context of the rising global jihad and Islamic fundamentalism. The crucial point, the analysts say, is that the Uighur case is getting increasingly hijacked by the jihadist movements, particularly in Afghanistan and Pakistan where a number of Uighur militants have reportedly fought alongside the Taliban, at least prior to 2014.
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'A serious issue'
Faiz Ullah Firaq, the spokesman for the local Gilgit-Baltistan government, says Pakistani authorities are "in contact with China's foreign ministry" on the issue.
"We know the locals are concerned about the issue. The Gilgit-Baltistan assembly also passed a resolution against the arrests," Firaq told DW.
Nawaz Naji, a member of the Gilgit-Baltistan legislative assembly, dubbed it "a very serious issue."
"It is not only the people of Gilgit-Baltistan but many Pakistani Pashtuns and Punjabis have also Chinese wives. China needs to take into account the cultural sensitivity regarding this issue. We are a Muslim society and having our wives in someone else's custody is not acceptable to us. We do not want to escalate the issue because we want good ties between Beijing and Islamabad," Naji told DW.
In the past few years, the Chinese government has acted strictly against the separatists in Xinjiang
At least 39 Uighur women from Gligit-Baltistan have so far been arrested in China, DW has learnt. But most of the husbands are reluctant to talk to the media for fear of safety of their wives and their extended families in Xinjiang.
"My wife is living under surveillance. She went through an interrogation process twice last year," a 39-year-old trader from Gilgit city told DW on condition of anonymity.
"I have not seen my wife and children for the past two years. My family is psychologically disturbed because of the situation," the trader said, adding that Chinese authorities suspect his wife's brother, sister and niece to have links with Islamist extremists.
Mir Aman from Gilgit city, who currently resides in Kashgar, told DW that his 60-year-old wife was arrested in Xinjiang some six months ago. "I am not allowed to meet her or talk to her over the phone. They haven't told me what crimes my wife has committed. My 18-year-old son was also arrested a month prior to my wife's arrest," Aman said.
Shafqat Ali, another trader from Gilgit-Baltistan, appeals to the Chinese government to release his detained wife.
"My children are suffering because of their mother's arrest," he told DW.
Ayub Shah, an ex-member of the Gilgit-Baltistan legislative assembly and husband to a Chinese woman, says the locals are afraid to discuss the issue publicly and are trying to resolve the problem by seeking assistance from Pakistani and Chinese foreign ministries.
But some locals tell DW they are too desperate to see their wives and children return from Xinjiang, and if Pakistani and Chinese authorities fail to resolve the issue soon, they plan to launch a protest movement for the release of their loved ones.