ISLAMABAD: The differences between Saudi Arabia and Malaysia have compelled Prime Minister Imran Khan to stay out of the Kuala Lumpur Summit.
A high-ranking government official said that a difficult decision was taken to maintain Pakistan’s neutrality in the “Muslim Ummah”.
PM Imran not only decided to cancel the visit but Pakistan would not attend the summit altogether, contrary to earlier reports that Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi might represent the country.
The Kuala Lumpur summit will kick off on Thursday and is being attended by leaders from Turkey, Iran and Qatar besides hundreds of other delegates.
The summit is meant to discuss problems facing the Muslim countries and suggest way forward. Observers see it as an attempt by Malaysia and other like-minded countries to create a new Islamic bloc, excluding Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries.
PM Imran had initially confirmed his participation in the summit but had to change the decision after being approached by Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates (UAE) voicing their concerns over Pakistan’s participation.
The concern was first conveyed by the UAE foreign minister who paid an announced visit to Islamabad few days ago.
That visit prompted the foreign minister to travel to Saudi Arabia in an effort to allay Riyadh’s concerns.
When Saudi Arabia and its other Arab allies were not convinced with the explanation of Pakistan, Prime Minister Imran himself had to travel to Riyadh, while at the same time Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa visited UAE.
However, the visits failed to bring the desired results forcing Pakistan to opt out of the summit.
A senior government official who was directly involved with the decision-making process brushed aside the impression that Pakistan stayed out of the Kuala Lumpur summit on Saudi Arabia’s pressure.
The official requesting anonymity insisted that the decision was not taken under any pressure.
“It was a difficult decision but taken in view of the best national interests and larger regional situation,” he said.
The official also said the purpose of premier’s visit to Riyadh was not to convince the Saudi leadership for Kuala Lumpur summit but was an effort to bridge differences between Malaysia and Saudi Arabia.
The official pointed out that although Saudi leadership had highest regard for Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, they nevertheless thought the summit would increase divisions in the Islamic world.
Despite the fact Malaysia had extended an invitation to Saudi Arabia as well as UAE to attend the summit, Saudi Arabia was not convinced.
“Since the time was too short and differences still persist between Saudi Arabia and Malaysia, we thought Pakistan should step back for the time being,” the official said, while explaining the rationale behind the decision, which many see it as a major foreign policy disaster.
In order to avoid any negative fallout of the Pakistani decision, PM Imran, according to the official, held four telephonic conversations with his Malaysian counterpart.
Quoting PM Imran, the official said that the premier would visit Kuala Lumpur in January.
According to the official, the Malaysian premier understood Pakistan’s position.
At the same time, PM Imran met Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on the sidelines of the refugee conference in Geneva on Tuesday and took him into confidence about not attending the summit.
The official emphasised that Pakistan could still attend the summit but that would compromise Islamabad’s position as ‘neutral player’ in the Muslim world.
The official, however, acknowledged that Saudi Arabia and its Arab allies’ financial and other support was certainly a factor in Pakistan’s decision.
Saudi Arabia and UAE were the first countries to extend a bailout package for the PTI government to address the country’s balance of payment crises.
The official emphasised that Saudi Arabia did not use this as leverage.