KL Summit fallout

Updated 13 Feb 2020


THE dangers of lack of proper planning and foresight at the state level, especially in sensitive matters of foreign affairs, have become apparent in the fiasco that resulted when Pakistan absented itself from the Kuala Lumpur Summit, which wrapped up on Saturday.

The moot was touted as a forum to discuss the “state of affairs of the Muslim Ummah” and Dr Mahathir Mohamad, one of the architects of the summit, explicitly said the conclave was not a replacement for the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation.

This is the fifth edition of the summit and the 2019 meeting was given an additional boost as Dr Mahathir, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Prime Minister Imran Khan had sought to make the forum a proactive one, along with other Muslim leaders, to discuss the state of affairs in the lands of Islam.

However, Pakistan’s abrupt withdrawal from the summit caused diplomatic embarrassment.

This was compounded by revelations by Mr Erdogan on Friday that the Saudis asked Pakistan to withdraw or else face the expulsion of Pakistani expatriates from the kingdom as well as the withdrawal of Saudi funds deposited in this country. The Saudi embassy in Islamabad has termed these comments “fake news”.

As we have stated previously in these columns, proper homework should have been done before committing Pakistan to the summit.

Withdrawing from the moot at the last minute, after Prime Minister Imran Khan made a dash to Saudi Arabia, did little to lift our international image. This reflects bad form and a lack of planning at the top.

Surely, there are experienced hands at the Foreign Office as well as retired veteran diplomats and other experts in international relations who could have been consulted to weigh the pros and cons of attending the summit before making a policy decision. Pakistan at one time enjoyed great prestige in the Islamic bloc; today, this reputation risks being tarnished if thoughtless actions such as the KL Summit debacle are repeated. Perhaps some damage control can be done by organising a conclave in Pakistan to discuss the Muslim world’s problems.

As for the OIC secretary general’s contention that events such as the KL Summit “are not in the interest of [the] Islamic nation”, this position is highly debatable.

It can be asked what — over the decades — has the OIC done to alleviate the sufferings of the Palestinians, the Kashmiris, the Rohingya and other persecuted Muslim groups suffering from oppression. The bloc has been known for paralysis and grandiose, hollow statements more than for taking action.

The fact is Riyadh was wary of the KL moot where its geopolitical rivals — Turkey, Iran, Qatar — participated as equals.

If the OIC is incapable of addressing the issues of the world’s Muslims, from terrorism to disease to illiteracy, then other forums are bound to arise to tackle these problems.

Published in Dawn, December 23rd, 2019