Imran thanks Mahathir for speech on held Kashmir

Updated 09 Aug 2020

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Dr Mahathir said now when he was no longer prime minister of his country, “I can now speak without restrain and address the Kashmir issue without threats of boycotts and such”. — Reuters/File
Dr Mahathir said now when he was no longer prime minister of his country, “I can now speak without restrain and address the Kashmir issue without threats of boycotts and such”. — Reuters/File

ISLAMABAD: Amid an ongoing debate in the country over lack of support by Muslim countries and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) for the Kashmir cause, Prime Minister Imran Khan on Saturday expressed his gratitude to former prime minister of Malaysia Dr Mahathir Bin Mohamad for speaking in support of the people of India-held Kashmir.

“I want to thank Dr Mahathir Bin Mohamad for speaking in support of Kashmiris and against Indian repression in the IIOJK (Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir) — this time at a function on 8 Aug to mark a year of the illegal Indian actions in (the) IIOJK,” Mr Khan wrote on his official social media account on Twitter.

The 95-year-old Mahathir, who announced on Friday his plan to launch a new political party, reportedly spoke in support of the people of held Kashmir at a ceremony in Kuala Lumpur on Friday before taking to Twitter to defend his last year’s speech at the United Nations General Assembly as the prime minister of Malaysia, where he had criticised India over the situation in the occupied valley.

Read: At 94, Mahathir still punching in Malaysia's political fray

“To my mind, keeping quiet is not an option when all the tell-tale signs were pointing towards another situation whereby a big and powerful country imposed its will with impunity on a small and defenceless nation,” Dr Mahathir said while referring to India’s act of annexing occupied Kashmir through a constitutional amendment revoking special status of the disputed territory.

Keeping quiet not an option, former Malaysian premier says at a ceremony in Kuala Lumpur

Dr Mahathir said now when he was no longer prime minister of his country, “I can now speak without restrain and address the Kashmir issue without threats of boycotts and such”.

“What transpired since my contentious speech at the UN General Assembly in September last year only served to prove that what I had said were mild and to a certain degree, restrained,” the former Malaysian premier said later in a tweet.

“I offer no apology for what I had said though I am sorry that it had affected our palm oil export to India. I don’t know, if that is a high price to pay for speaking out against such injustices,” he wrote in another tweet.

In his speech at the UN General Assembly, Dr Mahathir had criticised India’s action in Kashmir and called it an “invasion” of the occupied valley. His remarks led to backlash from India, Malaysia’s largest importer of palm oil, in the form of order cancellations and import bans.

“There may be reasons for this action but it is still wrong. The problem must be solved by peaceful means. India should work with Pakistan to resolve this problem,” he had stressed.

He had also criticised a new citizenship law in India that excludes Muslim immigrants. In retaliation for his comments, India, which was once the biggest buyer of palm oil, put curbs in January on purchases from Malaysia.

Frustration in Islamabad over the OIC’s inaction on Kashmir has been growing for months and Prime Minister Khan had voiced his concern while speaking at a think-tank during his visit to Malaysia in February.

“The reason is that we have no voice and there is a total division amongst [us]. We can’t even come together as a whole on the OIC meeting on Kashmir,” Mr Khan had said.

Foreign policy experts are giving importance to Prime Minister Khan’s tweet in the backdrop of the statement of Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi who had asked Saudi Arabia-led OIC to stop dilly-dallying on convening a meeting of its Council of Foreign Ministers (CFM) on Kashmir.

“I am once again respectfully telling the OIC that a meeting of the Council of Foreign Ministers is our expectation. If you cannot convene it, then I’ll be compelled to ask Prime Minister Imran Khan to call a meeting of the Islamic countries that are ready to stand with us on the issue of Kashmir and support the oppressed Kashmiris”, Mr Qureshi had said while participating in a talk show on a private TV channel on August 5.

“If the OIC fails to summon the CFM meeting, Pakistan will be ready to go for a session outside the organisation,” the minister had said in an unusual warning.

Pakistan has been pushing for the foreign ministers’ meeting of the 57-member bloc of Muslim countries, which is the second largest intergovernmental body after the UN, since India annexed occupied Kashmir last August.

Turkey, Malaysia and Iran had unequivocally rejected India’s annexation of Kashmir and voiced concern on atrocities committed by Indian security forces on the Kashmiris in the occupied valley.

The foreign minister had said Pakistan had skipped the Kuala Lumpur Summit last December at the request of Saudi Arabia and now Pakistani Muslims were demanding of Riyadh to “show leadership on the issue”.

“We have our own sensitivities. You have to realise this. The Gulf countries should understand this,” the foreign minister had said, adding that he could no more indulge in diplomatic niceties.

The foreign minister’s remarks drew the ire of the opposition parties, particularly the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) whose leadership had special relations with the Saudi royal family.

PML-N president Shahbaz Sharif criticised Mr Qureshi for his remarks, terming them “highly unfortunate and irresponsible”.

Mr Sharif said the “cavalier” attitude of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf government was undermining Pakistan’s core relations with friendly countries. He urged the government to apologise to Saudi Arabia and deal with the matter wisely and efficiently, reminding it about the strategic and historic brotherly relations between the two countries.

On the other hand, during the weekly briefing the outgoing Foreign Office spokesperson Aisha Farooqui had defended the controversial remarks of the foreign minister, saying his statement was a reflection of the people’s aspirations and expectations from the OIC to raise the Kashmir issue internationally.

In reply to a question, she said the foreign minister’s remarks were “not against diplomatic norms.”

Another questioner referred to the FM’s remarks that Pakistan would move forward with or without Saudi Arabia on the Kashmir issue and asked if it was a political statement or the official position. Ms Farooqui replied that Pakistan and its people had more expectations from the OIC than from any other international organisation because of deep-rooted and fraternal ties with OIC member states and the OIC itself.

Published in Dawn, August 9th, 2020