- Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan has been a vocal critic of the mistreatment of Muslims globally, but has been silent on the Chinese persecution of Uighurs.
- Questioned about it by a reporter at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Khan first claimed to not "know much about" the scale of the abuse.
- He then acknowledged that his government is indebted to Beijing because "they came to help us when we were at rock bottom."
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Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan has been vocal about the mistreatment of Muslims around the world, so his silence on the Chinese persecution of millions of Uighurs has been particularly noticeable.
At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Wednesday, Khan was asked about this apparent lack of criticism and at first replied that he didn't "know much about" the scale of Uighur mistreatment.
But after being pushed on the issue by a reporter, Khan acknowledged that Pakistan's special relationship with China played a part in his response to the Uighur crisis.
"China has helped us," Khan said. "They came to help us when we were at rock bottom, and so we are really grateful to the Chinese government."
The Chinese government has been accused of waging a mass crackdown on millions of Uighurs, a mostly Muslim majority, by imprisoning them in detention centers in Xinjiang — where they are allegedly beaten, deprived of food and subjected to medical experiments — and promoting "mass rape" in the name of ethnic unity. China has denied reports of abuse at what the government calls "reeducation camps" and decried its Western critics.
Despite reports about Uighur abuse, many Muslim-majority countries, afraid of incurring China's wrath, have stayed mum. The 57-country Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in December mentioned "disturbing reports" of China's Muslim crackdown in a series of tweets. It then backpedaled by releasing a report saying that it "commends the efforts of the People's Republic of China in providing care to its Muslim citizens and looks forward to further cooperation between the OIC and the People's Republic of China."
This situation was mirrored in Pakistan in September when Noor-ul-Haq Qadri, the country's religious affairs minister, slammed Beijing for battering Uighurs in the name of counterterrorism — only to have Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi attack the media for "trying to sensationalize" the goings-on in Xinjiang.
Instead of going public with any concerns, Khan said his government has decided to deal privately with issues that may arise with Chinese leaders.
He then compared Uighur persecution to that of India's retraction of Kashmir's semi-autonomous status.
China's campaign against the Uighurs is "nothing compared to what's happening in India, in Kashmir. You cannot compare the scale," Khan said.
He blasted India's government, which is led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, for holding "8 million people in Kashmir under siege for five months" and jailing its leaders after the annexation.
"Of course, Pakistan is the affected party because it is a disputed territory, which is why I'm more vocal about it," Khan said.