Foreign minister claims P.M. Khan’s visit to Saudi Arabia was to resolve Gulf state’s differences with Malaysia, not seek permission to attend event
Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi on Tuesday confirmed that Pakistan would not participate in this week’s Kuala Lumpur Summit, adding that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates had “concerns” about the event.
Addressing a group of journalists at the Foreign Office, Qureshi said the Gulf states believed the summit could cause “divisions in the Ummah” and result in the formation of an organization that co-opted the work of the Saudi-led Organization of Islamic Cooperation. According to daily Dawn, he said that Islamabad had decided to skip the summit if it could not resolve the differences between Malaysia and Saudi Arabia.
Prime Minister Imran Khan on Monday telephoned his Malaysian counterpart, Mahathir bin Mohammad, to confirm that he would not attend the summit. According to Dawn, the P.M. conveyed the same message 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 Dec. 16, Special Assistant to the P.M. on Information Firdous Ashiq Awan had told journalists the government would make a final decision on Khan’s attendance at the event after the prime minister returned from Geneva.
The government was forced to admit the decision had already been taken after the Malaysian Prime Minister’s Office issued a statement confirming that P.M. Khan would not participate in the summit. It 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.”
The about-face is embarrassing for the incumbent government, as Pakistan was one of the first countries to sign onto the summit in September. P.M. Mahathir held a trilateral meeting with P.M. Khan and President Erdogan on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly session in New York in which the summit was discussed. Subsequently, Khan formally accepted Mahathir’s invitation to attend the summit on Nov. 29.
These plans were dashed when Saudi Arabia conveyed its displeasure. Despite claiming that there were no conditions attached to a soft loan of $6 billion the Gulf kingdom had granted the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf-led government last year, the events of the past week prove that it came with strings attached—and Islamabad is now beholden to follow the directions of the petrostate.
Qureshi appeared to dismiss this perception. He said Khan’s trip to Saudi Arabia had been aimed at bringing Saudi Arabia and Malaysia closer together, and not to seek permission to attend the summit. He said that Pakistan’s decision to sit out the event had actually clarified that it was truly neutral and was not inclined to join one side or the other. He did not clarify if this meant Pakistan would also skip any forthcoming OIC event to maintain its “neutrality.”
The foreign minister said Pakistan had attempted to resolve the differences between the Gulf states and Malaysia by getting invites for Saudis and Emiratis, reported Dawn. However, he said that Mahathir was unable to personally visit Saudi Arabia and invite Saudi King Salman—implying that Salman required subservience to the House of Saud to even consider attending the Kuala Lumpur Summit.
Mahathir, meanwhile, told reporters in Kuala Lumpur that Saudi King Salman did not want the Kuala Lumpur Summit to discuss any issues facing Muslims, said Dawn. Only one organization can discuss the matters of approximately 1.8 billion members of the Muslim Ummah appears to have been the implied message.