The awkward silence in both Pakistan and China about the plight of Muslim Uighur spouses of Pakistani traders in China is deeply troubling. The traders, most of whom are Gilgit-Baltistan residents, have not heard from their wives for months on end ever since Beijing mounted a crackdown on dissidents in the restive Xinjiang region.
Wearing their anxiety on their sleeves, a group of traders is setting off for China to lobby their country’s diplomatic mission to take up the issue and determine the fate of their spouses. Given the closeness of Pakistan-China relations, it would not be too diplomatically taxing to get an update on their status. As close regional partners, we in Pakistan understand more than a thing or two about Chinese sensitivities and the delicateness of political matters in their country as well as their penchant for enforcing regulations. While Pakistani nationals support those endeavours and respect their concerns over security or stability but we do expect Beijing to devise a mutually satisfying solution which will somehow ease the suffering of Pakistani traders and their Chinese spouses and not compromise on China’s security needs.
In the past few years, Islamabad has acted with alacrity when Chinese nationals faced any difficulty on Pakistani soil, racing to remove any irritant or address a complaint raised at the official level. Reciprocity is indeed a useful paradigm to follow. Surely the cause of Sino-Pak friendship would be better served if both countries could get over their awkwardness in uncomfortable situations and worked harder. Friendships can grow and mature only when two parties start talking with each other about a variety of issues ranging from divisive to taboo — without the need for finding common ground. This is possible when mutual respect drives those discussions. This is the best way forward.