The Telegraph – Uighurs in China: Should we believe what we see?

Those who have fled detention centres describe oppressive conditions, but visitors see inmates laughing and learning

Neha Sahay

Calcutta – West Bengal – India, 05 March 2019. What is real and what is fake in news coming out of the Muslim-dominated province of Xinjiang is difficult to find out. Through January and February, diplomats and journalists from 30 countries, including India, visited the restive region, home to a violent separatist movement.

The foreign visitors were taken inside Xinjiang’s notorious camps where Uighurs are detained for months till they accept the Communist Party’s ideology. Those who have managed to flee have described the oppressive conditions inside: the overcrowding, the contempt for anything traditionally Uighur or Islamic.

But photographs in State-run newspapers of these foreigners’ visits showed inmates laughing with the visitors; or seated in classrooms learning Mandarin or vocational skills. At one camp, the inmates danced for the visitors to the tune of “If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands.”

Some inmates even told the visitors they had approached these “vocational education and training centres”. the official term for these camps, on their own. All of them said they had viewed and forwarded jihadi videos on the internet.

These videos had made them hostile, even violent, towards non-Muslims. One man said he stopped sending his kids to school and beat his wife when she objected.

Concerned at these changes, family members and friends had reported them to village officials or the police. Informed that forwarding such videos was a crime, they applied to be admitted to these centres.

“Had I not done so, I would have become a terrorist,” said one woman. Once they are proficient in Mandarin, China’s laws and a vocational skill that would help them earn, they would be able to leave the centre, they told the foreigners.

The delegates were also taken around Xinjiang. Curiously, wherever they went, they found Uighurs busy playing traditional musical instruments or dancing and chatting with Hans, the majority race in China, who have been systematically settled in Xinjiang.

In contrast to this propaganda was the blog by a Han student about her holiday in Xinjiang last October. She went as a curious tourist; her experiences there shook her. It was the National Holiday week; outside every house was the national flag.

The red flags, the security men and machines everywhere, the uniformed vigilante groups of local businessmen patrolling with long bats marred the “vibe” of the local architecture, she wrote.

The blog also described her meeting with two young Uighur civil servants. Shocked by their choice of jobs, she found, after spending time with them, that their concerns were no different from any Chinese youngster trying to make a career.

In fact, one of them who taught Mandarin to his fellow Uighurs was convinced that this would help them get jobs and avoid extremism.

Everywhere, there were separate queues for Uighurs and outsiders. Uighurs had to get their identity cards checked at every point. But “thanks to my Han face, I could start my trip as a typical, carefree tourist,” she wrote.

What chilled her to the bone was an encounter with a Han cop curious about what she was doing in this disturbed region. When she gushed to him about the local architecture, he replied: “Do you really think the architecture is pretty? These are Uyghur-style buildings.

We are against that.” As they chatted, he grew suspicious, even doubting that she was a student in spite of having seen her ID card. Back in her hostel room the girl was full of “terror and guilt”. How did the Uighurs cope with the “atmosphere of control” all the time, she wondered.

The Tribune – Approval to acquire land for Ferozepur-Amritsar rail link

Anirudh Gupta

Ferozepur – Panjab – India, 05 March 2019. Decks have been cleared for the Ferozepur-Amritsar rail link, following nod by the state government to acquire land for the project. The rail link has the potential to shorten the distance between the northern states, including Punjab, to trade capitals of Gujarat and Maharastra to a large extent.

The state government has approved Rs 40 crore for the acquisition of land in Ferozepur and Tarn Taran districts to lay the rail track, needed to revive this vital link between two border districts of Ferozepur and Amritsar.

Vivek Kumar, Divisional Railway Manager (Ferozepur Division), said though he had not received any official information on this, but once the land was made available, the Railways would start the work immediately.

Earlier, the rail link between Majha and Malwa was snapped at the time of partition when the province of Punjab was divided and some part of Ganda Singh Wala (now in Kasur) fell into the share of Pakistan, for which now an alternative broad-gauge link between Ferozepur and Patti needed to be constructed.

Though the crucial rail link was given a ‘green signal’ in the 2013 rail budget, the matter remained hanging in abeyance due to the delay on part of state government to provide land.

Last year, Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh had himself written to the Railway Ministry to expedite the process of construction of the broad-gauge link between Gharyala on the Amritsar-Khemkaran line and Mallanwala on the Ferozepur-Jalandhar line.

The matter had also been taken up by Rajya Sabha MP Shwet Malik, now state BJP chief, with the Railways on several occasions. Malik had even accused the “high-profile transport lobby” of trying to jeopardise the project due to their vested interests.

Social worker Ashok Bajaj said “The rail link is extremely vital to join the two strategically located border districts of Ferozepur and Amritsar.”

It will also be a boon for farmers who will be able to send vegetables and fruits to the markets in Mumbai and other areas within two-three days. The project would also ease the movement of troops in this border region, Bajaj said.

Leuven – Wijgmaal – Leuven

Leuven NMBS
20 February 2019

EMU from Leuven to Wijgmaal

Not very busy on a Wednesday afternoon

Good afternoon, Welcome in this train

Wijgmaal NMBS
20 February 2019

Platform for westbound trains

Platform for eastbound trains
Two Esperanto speakers

Leuven NMBS
20 February 2019

IC to Brussel, Gent and Blankenberge

To see all my pictures:

More Belgian pictures to be published
Harjinder Singh
Man in Blue

Morning Star – Cover-up at the Golden Temple (Harmandr Sahib)?

Information Commissioner’s anonymity order could hide Britain’s role in 1984 bloodshed

Amritsar – Panjab – India, The identities of civil servants who investigated British involvement in India’s Golden Temple massacre will remain secret, despite concerns that they could have potentially tampered with key evidence.

An anonymity order from the Information Commissioner means the government will not have to admit whether top officials active during the massacre were later allowed to control what files investigators saw.

The commissioner made the ruling after Whitehall claimed its staff could be targeted on social media which “may cause them distress.”

Indian troops shelled the Golden Temple in Amritsar in 1984, in a military operation against Sikh dissidents who were occupying their faith’s holiest site.

Hundreds if not thousands of Sikh pilgrims perished in the cross-fire.

In 2014, newly declassified British government files revealed that Margaret Thatcher had sent an SAS officer to advise Indian commanders how to raid the temple just months before the operation unfolded.

The revelation caused outrage among British Sikhs and then-prime minister David Cameron immediately launched a review, although he stopped short of ordering a full public inquiry.

Mr Cameron’s in-house review was conducted at breakneck speed by a Cabinet Office team and absolved the British military of any wrongdoing.

His probe claimed that the SAS role was “limited” and the officer’s advice was not heeded.

Sikh groups branded the review a “whitewash” and it later emerged that the Cabinet Office had not been given access to a crucial special forces file.

Concerns escalated further when Whitehall admitted in 2017 that it had allowed retired diplomats to select what files the Cabinet Office team saw.

The government then refused to rule out whether these ex-diplomats included a man called Bruce Cleghorn.

Just before the massacre Mr Cleghorn wrote a secret Foreign Office memo in 1984 about “the threat of Sikh terrorism,” warning: “It would be dangerous if Her Majesty’s Government were to become identified, in the minds of Sikhs in the UK, with some more determined action by the Indian government, in particular any attempt to storm the Golden Temple in Amritsar.”

Mr Cleghorn later went on to become a British ambassador before taking on a more low profile role at the Foreign Office as a “sensitivity reviewer,” vetting the department’s old files before they are released to the National Archives.

He was working in this sensitivity reviewer role in 2014 when the prime minister ordered the probe. The Foreign Office has confirmed that its sensitivity reviewers were tasked with selecting files for the PM’s probe.

However, the department has refused to answer a freedom of information request by the Morning Star which asked if Mr Cleghorn himself was allowed to select files.

The Foreign Office told the Information Commissioner that the probe was “a significant and emotive issue for the Sikh community and if the identity of the sensitivity reviewers involved in the review were released then this could lead to significant activity on social media that could lead to them receiving attention that may cause them distress.”

In making her decision, Commissioner Elizabeth Denham said “even the perception of a possible conflict of interest adds weight to the argument” that the Foreign Office should reveal who took part in the review.

However, the Commissioner ultimately concluded that Mr Cleghorn’s right to privacy outweighed the public interest in knowing whether the probe’s integrity was tainted.

The decision has outraged Slough Labour MP Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi.

He told the Morning Star: “There seems to be a serious conflict of interest at the heart of the review into the British government’s involvement with the 1984 massacre at Sri Harmandar Sahib Amritsar.

“Given the enormous loss of life, there is overwhelming public interest in ensuring the government conducts the most transparent investigation.

“To ensure justice, I reiterate the demand for an independent inquiry, which I’m proud to say the Labour Party manifesto called for in 2017.”

Dawn – Pulwama: verify the facts

Najmuddin A Shaikh

Op/Ed 07 March 2019. While the armed forces on both sides remain in a state of high alert and are distrustful of each other’s intentions it does seem that some back channels contacts have brought acceptable assurances and permitted the resumption of bus and train services, and of contact on the Kartarpur Corridor.

Proving himself to be a statesman, Prime Minister Imran Khan announced the release of the Indian pilot that Pakistan had captured after his plane was brought down and, in my view, facilitated the de-escalation that sane people on both sides desire and that had been the consistent endeavour of the major players of the international community.

Inflammatory rhetoric may remain part of the election campaign in India for another few months but, hopefully, it will not be allowed to get out of hand and will not provoke similar rhetoric in Pakistan.

‘Give peace a chance’: Prime Minister Khan responds to Modi

Many may argue that it is too early to expect objectivity but I believe it is now time for officials in both Pakistan and India to look closely at what actually happened in Pulwama on 14 February. They must see who the perpetrator was and how an organisation in Pakistan took it upon itself, in its various publications, to take credit for what, in terms of the language associated with militant incidents, was a ‘lone wolf’ operation by a Kashmiri freedom fighter/militant/terrorist.

Both Pakistan and India know that if there is to be economic development and stability in the region, then a reasoned approach has to be adopted.

Going by press reports, it would appear that an individual named Adil Ahmad Dar, with the help of local Kashmiris in India-held Kashmir, procured a Maruti van, packed it with 30 kilos of explosives (RDX) and rammed it into one of the vehicles of a convoy of military vehicles carrying personnel of the Central Reserve Police Force, killing himself and 40 CRPF men in the process.

In a video recording released shortly after, he is said to have said that he was associated with the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM).

A report in the Kashmir Times of 10 September 2017, had reported that one militant named Adil Ahmad Dar had been arrested and had been termed as a Hizbul Mujahideen fighter. Was this the same Adil Ahmad Dar who carried out the suicide attack or was there another Adil Ahmad Dar?

If this was another Adil then the police in India-held Kashmir should be able to say that the man arrested in 2017 is still in their custody and let him be interviewed. If, on the other hand, he is the same man who was arrested in 2017, one has to ascertain why he was released and why he was not under constant surveillance.

In either case, it seems that as of 19 February 2019, the US State Department relying presumably on its vast intelligence network was of the view that only the perpetrator had named himself as a JeM member. No Pakistan-based JeM connection was apparently known to the State Department.

Instead, the spokesman said, “As far as Pakistan goes, we’ve been in contact with Pakistan on this issue. We urge Pakistan to fully cooperate with the investigation into the attack and to punish anyone responsible”.

He did this after emphasising “we have a close, cooperative relationship with India, a security relationship, and that includes counter-terrorism operations”.

It is certainly true, as a perusal of the JeM publications after 19 February shows, that they claimed credit but this is exactly what Al Qaeda and the militant Islamic State group and other terrorist organisations repeatedly did when attacks were carried out in their name.

They even claimed attacks that had not been explicitly associated with them. Still, that was to be expected and should have been recognised as such rather than leading to an assertion in virtually every report that the JeM’s claim of responsibility was established and provided the justification for a violation of Pakistan’s sovereign territory.

Pakistan must, however, take this element into account as it examines the dossier on the JeM that it has belatedly received from India. We must do so also if we are to make our National Action Plan fully operational and if we are to rectify the shortcomings pointed out in the recent deliberations of the Financial Action Task Force within the given time frame.

In one of his dispatches, this paper’s Delhi correspondent Jawed Naqvi talked of “truth being the first casualty” in times such as we have seen over the last three weeks. That has certainly been established by the nature of the coverage Pulwama and its aftermath have received.

And yet both sides know that if there is to be economic development in the region, if there is to be the sorely needed connectivity in the region, if there is to be the stability in the region that every potential investor, both domestic and foreign, is going to look for, then this has to change and a more reasoned approach adopted.

Pulwama was a tragedy but it should be seen not as JeM terrorism; rather it is a stark indicator of the total alienation of the Kashmiri people not just with the Indian occupation forces but with India itself. Recent attacks on Kashmiris in mainland India suggest an equal alienation of the Indians with Kashmiris.

The Kashmiris will see this as India wanting the land of Kashmir but not the people of Kashmir, an add-on to the extremist Hindutva view that Indian Muslims really belong in Pakistan.

India, even Modi’s India, must recognise not only what this will do to the polity in India but also the polity of the region. Talks are necessary between the three parties – the Kashmiri people, India and Pakistan and cannot be delayed for too long.

The writer is a former foreign secretary.