Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar.—Reuters Photo

ISLAMABAD: Muslim leaders will meet Thursday as Pakistan hosts a summit designed to increase trade and investment but likely to be overshadowed by the Gaza conflict as diplomats scramble to arrange a ceasefire.

The D8 groups Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Malaysia, Nigeria, Pakistan and Turkey, with an estimated total population of one billion.

Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar has condemned what he calls Israel's ''aggression'' against Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

Khar spoke Wednesday ahead of a summit for eight developing countries in Pakistan's capital, Islamabad.

Pakistan's state-run news agency carried a government statement saying the conflict in Gaza will likely be a hot topic in discussions between Pakistani leaders and those visiting for the D-8 summit, which will be held on Thursday.

Earlier on Tuesday Pakistan had assumed the chairmanship of Developing-8 countries as the outgoing Nigeria completed its two-year term.

Nigeria's Minister of Foreign Affairs Olugbenga Ashiru handed over the chairmanship to Foreign Minister Khar who represented the country at the 15th session of Council of Ministers, held on the margins of eighth D-8 Summit here.

Foreign Minister Khar on Tuesday had welcomed the delegates to Islamabad and said the event was significant in realizing the collective issues and finding their solutions for a sustainable future of the one billion 'family members'. She announced that two landmark documents -- D-8 Charter and The Global Vision, would be signed during the summit.

She said  Pakistan had invited corporate and business leaders from D-8 states and stressed public-private partnership among them for strong trade linkages.

She called for joint efforts for strengthening the capacity of D-8 Secretariat by regularly holding business sessions to explore untapped resources of the member states.

Khar said democracy was important to attain sustainable development and mentioned that Pakistan through democracy had been able to secure the rights of its people.

On Afghanistan, she said Pakistan desires an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned solution to problem in its neighboring country.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Egyptian leader Mohamed Morsi and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, key players in the Middle East, are scheduled to be among those attending the D8 summit.

The D8 groups Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Malaysia, Nigeria, Pakistan and Turkey, with an estimated total population of one billion people.

Nigerian leader Goodluck Jonathan arrived in Islamabad on Wednesday.

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is also due to attend.

Bangladesh and Malaysia will be represented at adviser- and ministerial-level respectively.

The summit will mark the first visit by an Egyptian president to Pakistan in four decades and by the first by a Nigerian leader in 28 years.

Its ambitious goal is to increase trade between member countries from $130 billion to $507 billion by 2018.

D8 leaders are set “to discuss ways to cushion the effects of the global economic recession and climate change and tackle ways to boost trade among themselves”, the Pakistani government said in a statement.

Security situation

Islamabad rarely hosts major international gatherings given the Taliban and al Qaeda-linked violence that has plagued the country since the 9/11 attacks.

Security will be stepped up significantly, not least as the summit coincides with the month of Muharram, a magnet for sectarian attacks in Pakistan.

A public holiday has been declared on Nov 22 in the capital city of Islamabad in order to make security arrangements more effective.

Thousands of extra police and paramilitaries will deploy and construction work has been suspended around the diplomatic enclave to provide “foolproof security”, Islamabad police chief Bani Amin told AFP.

Pakistan wants the summit to boost trade and investment, strengthen its international standing and help “remove misconceptions (about Pakistan) created in a section of international media”, the statement said.

Expectations from the summit

The D8 is also due to adopt a charter at what will be its eighth summit.

But commentators believe proceedings could be overshadowed by events in the Middle East, where 136 Palestinians and five Israelis have been killed in eightdays.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has flown to Israel to help secure a truce. Egypt, Iran and Turkey have been angry critics of Israel as it bombards the Gaza Strip to try to end Hamas rocket launches from the enclave.

Egypt, which crucially maintains relations with both Hamas and Israel, has been a key player in trying to negotiate a ceasefire. Morsi is scheduled to address a joint session of the Pakistani parliament on Friday.

Erdogan told reporters he would discuss Gaza, the war in Syria and tensions in Iraq during meetings on the summit sidelines.

Iran's Ahmadinejad will likely use the meeting to ease his country's isolation due to sanctions over its contested nuclear programme.

Many in the West suspect the programme masks a covert attempt to develop nuclear weapons, something vehemently denied by Iran.

Pakistan will also likely press Iran over a multi-billion dollar deal to import Iranian gas despite US pressure to abandon the project because of the sanctions.

Analysts say the summit is an opportunity for Pakistan to make diplomatic headway and overcome its reputation as a hub of global terrorism.

Retired general turned political analyst Talat Masood said it was a chance for it to emerge as “one of the leading players in the Islamic world,” but warned that events in the Middle East could dominate.

“The present crisis between Hamas and Israel and Iran's relations with the US and important developments on this front will be a matter of serious discussion,” Masood told AFP.

The group was formed in 1997 to advance development cooperation among the member nations. They are mainly Muslim states with the exception of Nigeria, which population is roughly divided between Muslims and Christians.

Updated Nov 21, 2012 11:42am

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