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Pakistan not attending Kuala Lumpur Summit: Imran Khan’s latest U-turn?

PM, Imran Khan's sudden decision not to participate in the Kuala Lumpur Summit despite his commitment and Pakistan's inability to send even its foreign minister is seen as huge set back to Pakistan's foreign policy to bridge difference across the Muslim world. PM's reversal, being described as "Biggest U-Turn" of his 16 month government has apparently happened under severe reaction from Saudi Arabia and the UAE - both fear that Turkey and Malaysia are creating a rival Muslim bloc to diminish the importance of IOC.

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Prime Minister Imran Khan on Tuesday telephoned Malaysian counterpart Mahathir Muhammad and expressed his regrets for not being able to attend the summit, which starts today till Saturday. (18th to 21st Dec 2019). Political Analysts, media, intelligentsia on twitter and opposition leaders in Pakistan are very disturbed over the sudden foreign policy surrender made by PM Imran Khan apparently under pressure from Saudi Arabia and UAE – though government and foreign office deny pressures from GCC.

Dr. Mahathir appreciated Imran Khan’s call to inform of his inability to attend the summit where the Pakistani leader was expected to speak and help develop a common stand against the rising Islamophobia and intolerance against Muslims – especially in India and across Europe.

Imran Khan’s decision not to attend the summit is being termed as a big U-turn within Pakistan and many public figures are protesting and reacting to it. TV Anchor Moeed Pirzada has conducted polls and survey on his Twitter Handle followed and more than 90% Pakistanis (from Pakistan and abroad) think that if Imran Khan could not participate because of the complex politics of Muslim world then at least foreign minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi should have participated. Total non-participation by Pakistan in such an important forum has disappointed most Pakistanis.

Moeed Pirzada has also recorded a Video Blog, on his You Tube Channel that explains the immediate background, difficult diplomacy between Pakistan, Malaysia and Saudi Arabia and the historic background of leadership transitions across the Muslim world. He has pointed out that a trip to Saudi Arabia from Dr. Mahatir Mohammad, Malaysia PM, was scheduled on 6th December. But later Saudis wanted him to delay that trip for a few days; Malaysians argued that delay is not possible due to impending Kuala Lumpur Summit beginning on 18th. Sources close to Pakistan Foreign Office point out that had trip taken place then perhaps MBS would have been persuaded to participate in the Kuala Lumpur Summit. Watch Moeed Pirzada’s detailed blog on this and historic conflict.

Imran Khan from the very beginning, immediately after taking oath as Prime Minister of Pakistan, has been very vocal for unity across the Muslim world. In September this year, Prime Minister Imran Khan, along with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Malaysian counterpart Mahathir Mohamad had decided to counter Islamophobia. They had also agreed to jointly develop an English TV Network to bring out Muslim world’s perspective on regional and international developments.

Three leaders reportedly took part in a trilateral summit on the sidelines of the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) where they agreed on possible measures to counter Islamophobia.

Read more: Kuala Lumpur Summit 2019: Imran, Erdogan & Mahathir leading from front

PM also announced on his Twitter handle that a TV channel was going to be launched by these three countries. “President Erdogan, PM Mahatir and myself had a meeting today in which we decided our 3 countries would jointly start an English language channel dedicated to confronting the challenges posed by Islamophobia and setting the record straight on our great religion – Islam.”

The Malaysian Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) yesterday clarified the Kuala Lumpur Summit (KL Summit) 2019 is not intended to create a new bloc to replace the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). He also said the summit was not a platform to discuss religion or religious affairs but specifically to address the state of affairs of the Muslim ummah. “As a small nation, Malaysia is fully aware of its limitations and capabilities. We are merely attempting to contribute what little we can for the betterment of the Ummah (Muslims),” the statement said.

Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi will also not attend the Kuala Lumpur Summit 2019 as he has cancelled his visit to Malaysia following Prime Minister Imran Khan’s similar decision.

According to diplomatic sources, Qureshi was expected to represent Pakistan at the summit after PM Imran informed his Malaysian counterpart about his unavailability.

Read more: PM Khan not attending Kuala Lumpur Summit 2019: Saudi Hand at play?

It is worth noting that the most notable Muslim leaders who are expected to attend the summit include Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim Hamad Al Thani, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.

Earlier, GVS reported that Pakistan has assured Saudi Arabia that it will not become part of any initiative, which might undermine the kingdom’s interests, as Prime Minister Imran Khan is scheduled to attend the Kuala Lumpur Summit 2019 – seen as an alternative to the OIC. There were reports suggesting some ‘serious’ reservations of the Saudi political leadership regarding the upcoming summit in Malaysia.

GVS learned through diplomatic channels that Saudi Arabia has been upset with the event being hosted by Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and likely to be attended by leaders from Turkey, Iran, Qatar, Pakistan, and Indonesia.

Challenges for Pakistan

Last week, Foreign Office Spokesman Dr. Muhammad Faisal said at a weekly press briefing said “the summit will provide Pakistan an opportunity to explain views and find solutions to the challenges facing the Muslim world particularly governance, development, terrorism, and Islamophobia,”

The summit is an initiative of Dr. Mahathir to gather five Muslim nation namely Pakistan, Indonesia, Turkey, Qatar and the host Malaysia to foster cooperation to achieve socio-economic development.

Read more: Riyadh-Tehran Tensions: Saudi Arabia to Work Closely with Pakistan

Analysts raise interesting questions about Pakistan’s inability to take Saudis into confidence that the country shall always safeguard Saudi interests. Army Chief, Foreign Minister and Prime Minister visited the kingdom recently but all of them remained to unable to convince Saudis. There is a widely held perception in Pakistan that the country may appear as a state with compromised sovereignty due to Saudi Arabia’s apparently unnecessary demand to not attend the KL Summit 2019.

Prof. G-M Pitafi believes that the prime minister’s decision to not attend the summit has given a weak message to the world. “Earlier the foreign office in Pakistan announced that the premier shall attend the summit but after failing to convince the Arab leaders Pakistan is not going to attend the summit. What does it convey to the world? Are we completely dependent on Saudi Arabia? Did Saudi Arabia stand by Pakistan like this when it came to India and Kashmir?” he said.

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