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

Should Pakistan rely on Saudi Arabia or UAE while formulating its foreign policy? Does complete dependence mean one’s failure to stand firm on their own? How will this decision impact our newfound relations with Malaysia, Turkey, and Iran?

Kuala Lumpur

Prime Minister Imran Khan has canceled his scheduled visit to Malaysia and Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi will be representing Pakistan in his place at the Kuala Lumpur Summit scheduled for December 18-20. The decision has reportedly been taken after the premier visited Saudi Arabia and apparently remained unable to convince the Saudi leadership that the gathering in Malaysia is not an attempt to isolate it or to reduce its influence in the Muslim world.

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.

Sources in the government confirmed that the premier has canceled the visit following his meeting with Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman in Riyadh. “Saudi Arabia raised serious concerns over the statement of Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad who had recently said that the Muslim countries at Kuala Lumpur Summit would form a new platform to replace the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) which he said has failed to deliver the goods on issues faced by the Muslims across the world,” sources said.

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

A day 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 Organization of Islamic Cooperation (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.

The absence of Saudi Arabia and its Arab allies at the meeting, to be convened from Dec 18 to 21, and the presence of Turkey, Qatar, and Iran – with whom Riyadh doesn’t have good relations – have raised eyebrows with observers seeing it as a move to create a new Islamic bloc.

Read more: Pakistan will never work against Kingdom: PM Khan assures MBS

The matter turned from bad to worse since the Malaysian prime minister has publicly stated that the Kuala Lumpur initiative offers an alternative to the OIC, which many believe has failed to project Muslims’ perspective in the face of multiple challenges. But Riyadh feels such a bloc would undermine its role in the Islamic world.

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: Diplomatic Support for Kashmir: Premier Engages with Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, United Kingdom & Turkey

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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