The government of China has detained around 50 to 80 Chinese women married to men from Gilgit-Baltistan in the past two years. An official explanation for the detention is still awaited.
The affected locals have been protesting against this officially unexplained detention of their Chinese wives for the past several months.
It is assumed that these women, who married men engaged in border trade with China, have been held to check their links with Islamist/extremist groups.
A local businessman, Muhammad Hussain (name changed) says, “I married a Chinese Muslim woman during my frequent business tours to China in the 1990s and have a little child from her too. My wife is in police custody for the last three months and I am not allowed to meet her.”
Hussain’s wife was first detained in her own house for a month, and later was arrested on the assumptions of some links with certain Islamist groups. “Her relatives in China or I have received no information from authorities. We do not know the charges against her, despite repeated efforts to find out,” he says.
Hussain married a Chinese Muslim woman in late 1990s. He has a daughter from her who lived with her mother. During these years, both have been visiting each other from time to time. His wife lives in Urumqi, capital of Xinjiang. He had import-export business in China and learned Chinese too. He lived in Urumqi for nearly six months on work visa. Many marriages have taken place in this way in different areas of Gilgit and Xinjiang in the last more than two decades. The distance between Gilgit city where he lives and Urumqi is nearly 1450 kilometer. A direct flight is also available from Islamabad.
China has denied border entry and visa to many husbands like him. “This is a serious issue of human rights and there is no charge sheet against these detained wives. But China is not listening to us,” he says.
“Authorities are telling the relatives of these women in China that they are training these women, without sharing further details,” he says. He is unsure if they are being questioned, harassed or brainwashed.
Many of the women were picked up on suspicion of maintaining links with religious extremists, after China launched a crackdown on elements involved in religiously-motivated acts of terrorism in Xinjiang some months ago. The Muslim community of this province in China has been facing persecution by the communist government, according to media reports. In the past few years, the Chinese government has acted strictly against the separatists and Muslim groups in Xinjiang.
Gilgit-Baltistan, culturally rich northern side of Pakistan, shares border with China’s Xinjiang province. Because of this proximity, the residents of the two areas share old business, cultural and social ties. The region has also become important because it is a major part of western route of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
The Gilgit-Baltistan Legislative Assembly (GBLA), earlier this month, passed a unanimous resolution urging the federal government to take urgent steps for the release of these detained Chinese women.
The resolution reads: “The citizens of both sides frequently visit each other’s countries via the Khunjerab Pass. Last year the Chinese police started arresting those citizens who were married to foreigners and among those taken into custody were women married to Pakistani men… Many children belonging to affected families have been suffering from agony and pain as a result of these detentions.”
It further states: “Chinese workers and engineers in the region have never complained about local people and no untoward incident with Chinese citizens in GB has ever been reported. The Pakistan-China relationship has become strong due to border trade between the two countries through GB.”
“Marriages between men and women from GB and Xinjiang are common and are taking place for years. Chinese women married to GB men used to travel to their homeland in Xinjiang to visit their relatives. However, in the past few months this issue has turned serious,” Javaid Hussain, legislator GB Assembly, told The News on Sunday.
He adds that this is not an issue of a party or a group or a sect, “It is a collective issue and the whole house is concerned about it — the reason why we passed a unanimous resolution urging Islamabad to take up this matter swiftly and seriously.”
“When we contacted the Pakistan Foreign Office they said we can only request the Chinese authorities,” another affected husband tells TNS. “What kind of punishment is this? What wrong have we done? What is the sin of our children who are living in China without parents?” he asks. He thinks that Pakistan should help in bringing these minor children to GB at least for the period of detention of their wives.
“Chinese are misled by certain quarters and suspicions against our wives are baseless and nothing has been proven yet. Also, it is known to all that the people of GB are not involved in extremist activities,” he adds.
He thinks that by detaining their wives China is giving the wrong message to people of this neighbouring area that share historic ties. “China should not test our patience,” he says.
The affected husbands have also written letters to the Foreign Office and Chief of Army Staff, seeking their help in getting this issue resolved. The letter reads, “We are firm believer in Pak-China friendship. The attitude of Chinese authorities is beyond our understanding and if it continues, naturally, it will lead to sowing seeds of hatred. We have been living dignified family lives and our rights should not be violated”.
The letter seeks justice and a dignified solution to this matter.
Pakistani Foreign Office spokesperson Dr Muhammad Faisal says the matter is under discussion. “We always take up matters of mutual interest between the two countries,” he says.
The Chinese embassy in Islamabad declined to comment despite repeated efforts.