By Shabaz Syed
25 Feb 2021
“Pakistan must not let its close relationship with China become a reason to turn a blind eye to human rights abuses against its own citizens – either in abuses of women sold as brides or separation of Pakistani women from husbands from China’s Muslim Uighur population sent to “re-education camps” to turn them away from Islam.It is horrifying that women are being treated this way without any concern being shown by the authorities in either country. And it’s shocking that it’s happening on this scale.”-Omar Warriach, Amnesty International’s campaigns director for South Asia.
One of Adolf Hitler’s biggest strategic mistakes while invading Russia was issuing draconian directives to the Wehrmacht with regard to the handling of the civilian population in the conquered territories. This meant that the Germans stormed into the Soviet territories not as liberators but as conquerors. The Soviet populace which had been subjected to innumerable hardships and brutalities at the hands of the communist regime headed by Stalin were initially hopeful that someone at last might rescue them.But their hopes were destroyed within first few days of the invasion. The implications for the Germans turned out to be catastrophic as well since they had to always look over their shoulders as the partisans caused massive damage in their rear areas whose size was increasing exponentially with each passing day.
So what does that have to do with the current China-Pak relations? Surely, the most bloody war in history can have no parallels with an all weather friendship between two countries. The common strand that connects the two is the civilian population – more specifically its perception and sufferings. And the Pakistani people are not happy at the way the Chinese and their own govt are treating them. The powers that run Pakistan are literally bending over backwards to accommodate the whims and fancies of their Mandarin overlords at the cost of causing humiliation and exploitation of their own people. All this shouldn’t surprise anyone really because the Pakistani leaders(read dictators) never really bother about the common people in their country anyway. The Pak military and the govt has done everything possible to cover up the misadventures of the Chinese in their own country; the Chinese invaders/colonizers in the garb of businessmen. Despite their best efforts, a few horror stories have managed to surface over the last few years, much to the embarrassment of Pakistan. I stand corrected – it’s impossible to embarrass someone who doesn’t have any scruples in the first place. Pakistan has not just done a deal with the devil but sold its soul as well.
Lieutenant Colonel Imran Qasim, wrote a letter to his seniorstalking about a scuffle between Chinese labourers and Pakistani soldiers. He is officer in charge of the 27th wing of Pak army’s special security division which operates from Bahawalpur.As per the letter, the incident occurred on July 21, 2020. A protection party of six Pakistan army soldiers was tasked to look after the security of four Chinese labourers and two Chinese civilians. The team was working on CPEC’s mainline that links Karachi and Peshawar. The leader of the team insisted on moving to the next project site and leaving one Chinese labourer behind. Havaldar Asad Ullah decided to call the military camp to obtain an approval but before he could make the call, the havaldar was assaulted. He was hit on the head twice and within a matter of time the other Chinese labourers joined in and an-all out scuffle broke out.The army high command ordered the soldiers to disengage and to avoid any such physical altercations in the future because the Pakistan army have been instructed not to confront the Chinese in any manner no matter how serious the level of escalation and no matter the reckless behaviour of Chinese workers.
In a similar incident in 2018, Chinese engineers and other staffers, engaged in the construction of M4 Motorway from Bahawalpur to Faisalabad, attacked policemen deployed for their security after the foreign workers were barred from leaving their camp’s premises without a security squad. Several mobile phone clips went viral on social media showing Chinese nationals approaching the police officials in a provocative manner and attacking them. A video showed a Chinese national standing on the bonnet of a police van, another video showed several Chinese nationals thrashing policemen and some local people in plain clothes.According to police officials, Chinese engineers and other officials wanted to leave their camp in Khanewal and visit a “red-light” area and resorted to agitation when denied permission.Later, the Chinese engineers also cut power supply to the police camp established within the main construction camp. The Chinese workers stopped work on the project and abandoned heavy machinery and vehicles on various roads in the area. Subsequently, the protesting Chinese engineers wrote a letter to Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, claiming that police officials refrained them from performing their duties and attacked them.They also accused the security in-charge of attempting to hit the Chinese workers with his vehicle.In 2016, another clash occurred between the police and Chinese workers as the latter insisted on staying at a construction camp at night, but the former opposed the idea due to security reasons. Some Chinese nationals associated with the Chinese army and trained in martial arts had attacked and injured police personnel deployed for their security.However, the police had avoided taking any legal action against the Chinese to avert further conflict. In fact, the then CPO had suspended three SHOs and six other policemen for not restraining themselves from a clash.
But the most horrifying revelations, after which the whole country should hang their heads in collective shame, were made in an investigative report by Associated Press released in late 2019. This report documented how Pakistani girls are being sold to Chinese nationals in a million rupees human trafficking racket. 629 girls and women from across Pakistan were sold as brides to Chinese men and taken to China since 2018. The list, obtained by The Associated Press, was compiled by Pakistani investigators determined to break up trafficking networks exploiting the country’s poor and vulnerable.Pakistan’s Christian minority has become a new target of brokers who pay impoverished parents to marry off their daughters (some of them teenagers) to Chinese husbands who return with them to their homeland. Many of the brides are then isolated and abused or forced into prostitution in China, often contacting home and pleading to be brought back.Christians are targeted because they are one of the poorest communities in Muslim-majority Pakistan. The trafficking rings are made up of Chinese and Pakistani middlemen and include Christian ministers, mostly from small evangelical churches, who get bribes to urge their flock to sell their daughters. Investigators have also turned up at least one Muslim cleric running a marriage bureau from his madrassa.It is not known how many more women and girls were trafficked since the list was put together but the lucrative trade continues. An official who spoke to the AP in an interview said, “The Chinese and Pakistani brokers make between 4 million and 10 million rupees ($25,000 and $65,000) from the groom, but only about 200,000 rupees ($1,500), is given to the family,” he said. Many of the women who spoke to investigators told of forced fertility treatments, physical and sexual abuse and, in some cases, forced prostitution. At least one investigation report contains allegations of organs being harvested from some of the women sent to China.
The police discovered two illegal marriage bureaus in Lahore, including one operated from an Islamic centre and madrassa — the first known report of poor Muslims also being targeted by brokers. The Muslim cleric involved fled the police.However, investigators’ aggressive drive against the networks has largely ground to a halt because of pressure from government officials fearful of hurting Pakistan’s lucrative ties to Beijing. A court in Faisalabad acquitted 31 Chinese nationals charged in connection with trafficking.After the acquittals, there are other cases before the courts involving arrested Pakistani and at least another 21 Chinese suspects, according to the report sent to the prime minister in September. But the Chinese defendants in the cases were all granted bail and left the country. Activists and human rights workers say Pakistan has sought to keep the trafficking of brides quiet so as not to jeopardize Pakistan’s increasingly close economic relationship with China.
Pakistanis will soon realize—if they have not already—what a devil’s bargain their country has made. In China, Pakistan has tied itself to a country that is responsible for the incarceration in concentration camps of one million Muslims solely on the basis of their religion and it has partnered with a country that thinks nothing about killing Pakistanis and humiliating Pakistan. Pakistan’s economy has been teetering on the verge of bankruptcy for some time and the COVID-19 pandemic has made the situation even worse.Massive military expenditure, deep rooted corruption, and lack of accountability are at the heart of Pakistan’s perennial and ever widening gulf between revenue and expenditure. Now, it seems, Chinese investments have become a new liability. Many analysts have already labelled CPEC as a doomed project and the more imaginative ones have called it the China-Pak Corruption Corridor. And Pakistan is still willing to suffer all sorts of humiliation at the hands of its Chinese masters in a hope that the CPEC will be the silver bullet that saves the country. The people of Pakistan deserve better.