Pakistan skips Malaysia moot to ‘avert division in Ummah’

Updated 18 Dec 2019

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Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi contended that by staying back, Pakistan had underscored its neutrality on the issue and conveyed that it was not inclined towards one side or the other.  — AFP/FIle
Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi contended that by staying back, Pakistan had underscored its neutrality on the issue and conveyed that it was not inclined towards one side or the other. — AFP/FIle

ISLAMABAD: Ending uncertainty over Pakistan’s participation in the upcoming Kuala Lumpur Summit, the government on Tuesday announced that it would not attend the event at any level.

Talking to a group of journalists at the Foreign Office on Tuesday, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said there would be no representation from Pakistan government at the summit being held in Kuala Lumpur from Wednesday.

Prime Minister Imran Khan telephoned his Malaysian counterpart Mahathir bin Mohammad on Monday night to express his regrets for not being able to attend the summit.

Meanwhile, Mr Khan conveyed the same to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is also one of the driving forces behind the event, during a meeting on the sidelines of First Global Refugee Forum in Geneva on Tuesday.

FM says Saudi Arabia and UAE had concerns about Kuala Lumpur summit

A statement issued by Malaysian Prime Minister’s Office, while confirming that PM Khan would not participate in the summit, said: “Dr Mahathir appreciates Prime Minister Imran Khan’s call to inform of his inability to attend the summit where the Pakistani leader was expected to speak and share his thoughts on the state of affairs of the Islamic world.”

Pakistan was one of the first countries with whom PM Mahathir shared his plans for holding the summit, when he met PM Khan along with President Erdogan on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session in New York in September. Later PM Khan formally conveyed his acceptance of the invitation for attending the summit when deputy foreign minister Marzuki Bin Haji Yahya of Malaysia called on him in Islamabad on Nov 29.

Then came the Saudi pressure on Pakistan. Riyadh, which had extended a helping hand to the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf government in its early days to stave off economic crisis, wanted Islamabad to stay away from the event.

FM Qureshi confirmed that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates had concerns about the Kuala Lumpur Summit. They were worried that the event could cause “division in Ummah” and lead to setting up of an organisation parallel to the existing Saudi-dominated Organisation of Islamic Cooperation.

Mr Mahathir, meanwhile, told reporters in Kuala Lumpur on Tuesday that Saudi King Salman bin Abdul Aziz was averse to KL summit discussing Muslim issues. The Saudi monarch is of the view that the OIC should continue as the platform for discussing such matters.

In view of the reservations about the event, Mr Qureshi said, it was decided that Pakistan would first seek to bridge the gap between Riyadh and Kuala Lumpur and if that did not work there would be no participation in the summit.

The foreign minister said that Pakistan accordingly attempted to patch up the differences and succeeded not only in getting invites for Saudis and Emiratis, but also convinced Mr Mahathir to personally visit Riyadh and directly invite King Salman. Mr Mahathir’s visit could, however, not be scheduled because the dates proposed by Riyadh were not convenient for him to undertake the trip.

PM Khan’s trip to Saudi Arabia, he said, was aimed at bringing Saudi Arabia and Malaysia closer and not for getting a permission to attend the summit.

Mr Qureshi contended that by staying back, Pakistan had underscored its neutrality on the issue and conveyed that it was not inclined towards one side or the other.

According to media reports from the Malaysian capital, PM Mahathir and King Salman held a video conference on Tuesday to discuss Saudi reservations even after Pakistan had officially pulled out. But no common grounds could be found.

Published in Dawn, December 18th, 2019