Placate visit of Imran Khan to Malaysia

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By M. Sarwar

IT has officially been announced in Islamabad that Prime Minister Imran Khan is expected to visit Malaysia during ongoing month of January and during his visit, PM Khan will hold meeting with his Malaysian counterpart Mahathir Mohamed, to discuss important issues of mutual concern.Earlier on December 16, Prime Minister Imran Khan’s visit to Malaysia was postponed where he was invited to attend Kuala Lumpur Summit on December 18.

Sources said that the schedule of PM Imran Khan’s that visit to Malaysia was not finalised due to the emergence of reservations from some countries. Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Information Affairs Dr. Firdous Ashiq Awan had said that all decisions are made in the national interest but she had no answer to the question that what was the national interest in not attending the KL Summit.

Though Prime Minister Imran Khan talked over the phone with his Malaysian counterpart, Mahathir Mohamed, to apprise him about the decision of not attending KL Summit but it would remain a question on real reasons of abstaining the conference which was especially called to discuss various issues conflicting the Muslim Ummah including the Kashmir issue which was very much on the agenda.

Imran Khan also apprised the Malaysian premier about the recent development being undertaken by Pakistan by abstaining from participating in the Malaysia Summit. Later the Malaysian government had also issued an official statement on the matter, verifying the news but the outcome was more astonishing. The Kashmir issue disappeared from the agenda and nothing was mentioned on this much talked imbroglio in the final statement issued at the end of the two-day summit. The sources said that the blame for this omission goes to Pakistan which is posing and is considered the only advocate of Kashmiris.

Political observers still discuss this issue detailing that Imran Khan had confirmed Pakistan’s participation in the December 19-21 summit hosted by Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, but skipped the event at the 11th hour due to pressure exerted by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates – key financial backers of the cash-strapped country. According to a media report, Imran Khan will be travelling to Malaysia this month to placate Kuala Lumpur for this omission. Muslims from the entire world question the pathetic attitude of countries which are called Islamic nations towards the problems being faced by Muslims. Kashmir is worth mentioning precedent. How many Muslim countries out of 53 are raising voice on this issue? Specifically only four…Pakistan, China, Malaysia and Turkey, other 49 nations are either silent or say it as internal matter of India just because of their own interests attached with New Delhi.

Saudi Arabia has always maintained neutrality over the Kashmir issue since August 5, 2019 the day Indian government ended the special status of the state by revoking Article 370. The Kingdom backed India on the issue of cross-border terror during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s trip to Riyadh in October last year. UAE had described decision to scrap Article 370 as an internal matter of India. Saudi Arabia has reportedly now agreed to lend its weight on the issue of Kashmir by holding a special meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to discuss concerns related to that territory under administration of New Delhi but no date and eternity have been fixed and announced sofar. As show of closeness and affectionate, PM Narendra Modi was conferred Saudi Arabia’s highest civilian honour, the King Abdulaziz Sash, by King Salman, in Riyadh on April 03, 2016.

These observers claim that the summit in Kuala Lumpur was seen by ‘opponents’ as an attempt to create a new bloc in the Muslim world that could become an alternative to the dysfunctional Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) led by the Gulf Kingdom. But Malaysian Government negated this impression as unfounded and expressed regret over these sorts of thoughts. Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal even visited Islamabad last month to convey the Saudi leadership’s gratitude to Pakistan for not attending the summit.

It is believed that Imran Khan will use the visit to explain Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad the reason of Pakistan’s pull out from the summit, it said. The report also mentioned that Islamabad is also making efforts to reach out to Turkey after it blamed Pakistan of pulling out of the summit under threats from Saudi Arabia. The report said that the visit of Turkish President Recep Tayab Erdogan next month to Pakistan would help remove any mistrust between the two countries.

According to information, Minister Imran Khan made 22 foreign trips to 11 countries in just 16 months. He visited six times to Saudi Arabia and three each to UAE and China. Imran Khan went to Saudi Arabia on his first foreign state visit in September, 2018 after becoming prime minister of Pakistan. During his visit, he held bilateral talks with Saudi King Salman Bin Abdul Aziz and also performed Umrah. After the visit Saudi Arabia gave US$3billion to ease Pakistan’s financial woes. During his visit to Malaysia in November, 2018, Imran Khan was given an official welcome at the Dataran Perdana where he was greeted on arrival by Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad. He then inspected the guard of honour, mounted by the 1st battalion of the Royal Malay Regiment comprising 103 personnel and 3 officers.

Malaysia was happy with participation of Pakistan and a statement by the Malaysia prime minister’s office said that the Pakistani leader was expected to “speak and share his thoughts on the state of affairs of the Islamic world”. But all happened to contrary and Imran Khan did not attend the moot despite earlier announcement and even did not send Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi in his place.

Saudi Arabia was not invited to the Kuala Lumpur Summit, where 400 Muslim leaders, scholars and thinkers from 52 countries were convened to explore solutions for problems that affect the Muslim world. Observers see the summit, finalised during a trilateral meeting involving Turkey, Pakistan and Malaysia in September on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session in New York. It was assumed that due to disfunctioning of OIC, Kuala Lumpur meeting may prove as alternate platform to deal the issues and controversies being conflicted by the Islamic countries but unfortunately the purpose not served.
Notwithstanding Saudi Arabia and UAE are satisfied with Imran Khan’s cancellation and analysts consider this decision as Pakistan’s subservience to Saudi interests. Pakistan remains a close Saudi ally, heavily reliant on financial assistance and oil facility which it has received during its troubled and hard economic crunch times. Admirably after the inauguration of Imran Khan’s government, Saudi Government provided a $6 billion lifeline to tide over the economic crisis. 2.7 million Pakistani work in the king and provide a major source of foreign remittances.

This issue was discussed widely especially in media of Muslim countries andsources said that Saudi Arabia and its allies, including the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Kuwait and Bahrain are perturbed over the expected presence of Qatari emir, Turkish president and Iranian president at the summit and fear a new but parallel leadership forum is being developed to undermine Saudi Arabia and its allies. The general impression especially in Pakistan was that Imran Khan did not participate KL summit at the behest of the Kingdom that was another negative impression.

Sources further said that the UAE has also raised its concerns over Mahathir’s statement and has requested Pakistan to avoid the Kuala Lumpur Summit which may trigger a new controversy among the Muslim Ummah. “PM Imran was also conveyed concerns by Bahrain’s King Hamad Bin Isa Al-Khalifa over the intentions of the Kuala Lumpur Summit. The premier assured the royals of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain that he would not be a partof any scheme being planned to undermine the Gulf leadership,” sources were quoted as saying. They said that UAE’s Emir Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan had raised his concerns with Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa two days ago on December 14.

It is worth mentioning here that on December 17, 2019, a statement from Prime Minister of Malaysia office Putrajaya was issued that states “Yang Amat Berhormat Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir bin Mohamad received a call from His Excellency Imran Khan, Prime Minister of Pakistan, yesterday. Prime Minister Imran Khan expressed his regrets for not being able to attend the Kuala Lumpur Summit scheduled from 18 to 21 December 2019. 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”.

Notably, the statement clarified that Dr Mahathir would also like to correct some misinformation as was reported in Pakistan Today that alleged Dr Mahathir as saying that the KL Summit was intended to be a platform to replace the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation. The KL Summit which is into its 5th edition is a Non-Governmental Organisation initiative, supported by the Malaysian Government and is not intended to create a new bloc as alluded to by some of its critics. In addition, the Summit is not a platform to discuss about religion or religious affairs but specifically to address the state of affairs of the Muslim Ummah.

 “Today the Ummah is faced with oppression, the incarceration of millions, are placed in detention camps, civil wars resulting in total destruction of cities and nations leading to mass migration of displaced Muslims to non-Muslim countries, the rise of Islamophobia and irrational practices that go against the tenets of Islam yet proclaimed in the name of Islam. It is these concerns that had led to the establishment of the Summit and this year’s edition attempts to go beyond intellectual debates and discussions and instead pursue specific measures, pillars or objectives which are deemed achievable and implementable”, the statement continued.

Imran Khan’s decision angered in particular, Turkey and Malaysia who stood by Pakistan when FATF was about to place it on the “black list” for failing to curb money flows to finance terrorism. So angry was Turkey that President Erdogen publicly accused Pakistan of chickening out under Saudi threat of withholding promised funds. For good measure, Erdogen added that Islamabad had succumbed to pressures from Saudi and the UAE in the past as well. The Saudi embassy in Islamabad termed these comments “fake news”.

According to Turkish Daily Sabah, Erdogan said:  “Unfortunately, we see that Saudi Arabia pressures Pakistan. Now, there are promises that the country has given to Pakistan regarding the central bank. However, more than that, there are four million Pakistanis working in Saudi Arabia. They [threaten by saying that they] would send [Pakistanis] back and re-employ Bangladeshis instead,”

Comparison is being drawn between Imran Khan and his arch rival, the ousted premier Nawaz Sharif that is unfavourble to the latter. Sharif enjoyed such proximity to the Saudi royalty that it hosted him for nine years after Musharraf had toppled him. Yet, Nawaz Sharif was able to withstand Saudi pressures on sending Pak troops to fight for it in Yemen. Secondly, if Khan was trying to boost ties with Malaysia that are long-neglected and with Southeast Asian Muslim nations, he should have done proper homework.

Differences among the Muslim and the Gulf nations are now exposed. The Saudi objection to KL summit was that it sought to undermine the OIC that it dominates. Indeed, the Saudi king confirmed this when Mahathir telephoned him. That the OIC is no more than a talking shop is well known. Since Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries see the emerging alliance of Turkey, Iran, and Qatar as detrimental to their interests. The presence of the leaders of these three countries was stated the main reason for the Saudi opposition to the summit. In conclusion, Pakistan has to be very careful in maintaining relations with Muslim countries keeping in view of their internal differences.