The investigations into the trafficking network of Pakistani women and girls being sold to China have reportedly brought to a halt, over Imran Khan government's reluctance to blemish Islamabad's relationship with Beijing. With China's US$62 billion investment in the country, Imran Khan-led Pakistan government pressured investigators and witnesses to cease the cases that could harm the financial ties with the neighbour.
Page after page, the names stack up: 629 girls and women from across Pakistan who were sold as brides to Chinese men and taken to China. 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. The list gives the most concrete figure yet for the number of women caught up in the trafficking schemes since 2018.
"In October, a court in Faisalabad acquitted 31 Chinese nationals charged in connection with trafficking. Several of the women who had initially been interviewed by police refused to testify because they were either threatened or bribed into silence, according to a court official and a police investigator familiar with the case," read the report.
At the same time, the government has sought to curtail investigations, putting “immense pressure” on officials from the Federal Investigation Agency pursuing trafficking networks, said Saleem Iqbal, a Christian activist who has helped parents rescue several young girls from China and prevented others from being sent there.
Pakistan's Interior Ministry and Foreign Ministry, however, refused to comment on the issue. Several senior officials familiar with the events said investigations into trafficking have slowed, the investigators are frustrated, and Pakistani media have been pushed to curb their reporting on trafficking. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they feared reprisals. While the Chinese Foreign Ministry claimed to be unaware of the list.
"The two governments of China and Pakistan support the formation of happy families between their people on a voluntary basis in keeping with laws and regulations, while at the same time having zero tolerance for and resolutely fighting against any person engaging in illegal cross-border marriage behavior," the Chinese ministry said in a statement.
China is planning to invest $1 billion in development projects in Pakistan, Beijing's envoy here has said, as the two all-weather allies seek to further boost bilateral ties. The CPEC, which connects Gwadar Port in Balochistan with China's Xinjiang province, is the flagship project of Chinese President Xi Jinping's ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Pakistan and China are an all-weather strategic cooperative partner and have always firmly supported each other on issues concerning each other's core interests on global platforms.
(With AP inputs)