Rethink in Islamabad over moot in Malaysia to pacify Saudis

Updated December 17, 2019

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Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Information and Broadcasting Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan told reporters on Monday that a decision on Prime Minister Imran Khan’s participation in the event would be taken after his return from the ongoing overseas trip to Bahrain and Switzerland on Wednesday (Dec 18). — AFP/File
Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Information and Broadcasting Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan told reporters on Monday that a decision on Prime Minister Imran Khan’s participation in the event would be taken after his return from the ongoing overseas trip to Bahrain and Switzerland on Wednesday (Dec 18). — AFP/File

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan is reconsidering its decision to participate in the upcoming Kuala Lumpur Summit after Saudi Arabia expressed its reservations.

Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Information and Broadcasting Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan told reporters on Monday that a decision on Prime Minister Imran Khan’s participation in the event would be taken after his return from the ongoing overseas trip to Bahrain and Switzerland on Wednesday (Dec 18).

The summit, which is being participated by over 400 Muslim leaders, intellectuals, scholars and thinkers from 52 countries, will begin on Dec 18 in Kuala Lumpur, while the foreign leaders will meet on Dec 19 to explore new and workable solutions for problems afflicting the Muslim world.

“The priorities, the national priorities are linked to national narrative and national interest,” Dr Awan explained, adding that PM Khan would hold consultations with all stakeholders before taking a decision on this matter. The decision would be taken in the light of his other engagements as well, she said, adding that discussions on the issue were, as of now, continuing within the government.

Aide says decision on the issue will be taken after PM’s return from Switzerland tomorrow

A diplomatic source separately confirmed the rethinking in the government on PM Khan’s participation in the KL Summit.

It should be recalled that PM Khan had on Nov 29 confirmed his participation in the summit when Malaysian Prime Minister’s Special Envoy and Deputy Foreign Minister Marzuki Bin Haji Yahya met him to deliver a formal invitation for the event. It is furthermore believed that Mr Khan had contributed to the idea of the summit during his trilateral meeting with Malaysian Prime Minister Mahatir bin Mohamad and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in New York in September on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly session. Mahatir and Erdogan are the driving force behind the new forum.

The reconsideration, the diplomatic source said, had been prompted by Saudi reservations. Mr Khan had last Saturday travelled to Riyadh to assuage kingdom’s concerns and reportedly reassured Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman that his participation in the event would not be at the cost of Saudi interests.

Pakistan is a close Saudi ally and is indebted to the kingdom for the financial assistance and oil facility that it has provided to Islamabad on multiple occasions during troubled times. Riyadh had soon after the installation of the PTI government after the 2018 general elections provided $6 billion lifeline to tide over the economic crisis. Moreover, about 2.7 million Pakistanis are working in the kingdom and are, therefore, a major source of foreign remittances.

The disquiet in Saudi Arabia and its allied Arab countries over the upcoming KL Summit is because of the perceptions that the summit could transform into an alternative for the Saudi-led ‘dysfunctional’ Organisation of Islamic Cooperation.

A change in decision on participation will, however, not be an easy one for Mr Khan because Malaysia and Turkey had been some of the most vocal supporters on Pakistani stance on Kashmir, especially after annexation of the occupied territory by India. Moreover, Turkey has been a major supporter of Pakistan’s candidature, along with China, at the Nuclear Suppliers Group.

Published in Dawn, December 17th, 2019