Hard choices, harder outcomes
Reeling under Saudi coercion, Pakistan’s decision to snub the Islamic Summit at Kuala Lumpur dampens cordial relations with its organisers — Turkey and Malaysia
There are clearly two Muslim leaders in the world today trying to be seen as sole leaders of the Islamic lot and also seen to be isolating Saudi Arabia which always maintained primacy as the champion of Muslim (estimated over 1.75 billion) cause by being the custodian of holy sites in Mecca and Madina. These two leaders, currently rising on the Islamic centre stage, are Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Bin Mohamad — the nonagenarian leader from Malaysia — and Recep Tayyip Erdogan — President of Turkey and promoter of Muslim Brotherhood.
From the Indian perspective, both these leaders were in the spotlight for their blistering criticisms of India on the latter's stand on Kashmir and for their attempts to internationalise Kashmir on the sidelines of UN General Assembly session in New York this September. Also, these two leaders have emerged, of late, in castigating India and supporting Pakistan on any matters impinging Indian security interests. Clearly, they are trying to draw constant attention from the global Islamic community in resorting to India bashing.
Equally crucial is their tirade against Saudi Arabia (the champion for exporting Wahhabism) and its protege, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), which the Saudi Arabia and its affiliates including the UAE want to function as the singular body to address Muslim-related issues as Saudi Arabia doesn't want the Muslim leadership to go at the helm of Mahathir and Erdogan who are of firm opinion that OIC has miserably failed to alleviate sufferings of the Muslims, hence there was a need to hold a summit, as held in Kuala Lumpur.
Here, it would perhaps appear important to take notice of how Pakistan buckled under Saudi pressure not to attend the summit at the capital of Malaysia. According to knowledgable sources, Prime Minister Imran Khan was summoned in Saudi Arabia prior to the summit and all-powerful Prince Mohammad bin Salman (MBS), at the meeting, was categorical in his message to Imran not to attend the Kuala Lumpur summit.
He was also conveyed in no uncertain terms that if Pakistan went ahead to participate in the Kuala Lumpur event, then Saudi Arabia will be compelled to replace millions of Pakistani workforce employed in the Saudi Kingdom and they would be replaced by Bangladesh labour. More damaging was the threat that all the Saudi money invested in the State Bank of Pakistan would be withdrawn. Imran Khan, struggling with a fledgeling economy in his country, found it difficult to defy and meekly submitted to the Saudi coercion. Many assess that Pakistan, by accepting such a diktat, has proved that it continues to be a vassal state of Saudi Arabia.
Pakistan's non-participation has not augured well with the Turkish leadership under President Erdogan and Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad who are possibly repenting having extended huge moral support to Pakistan in Kashmir while Saudi Arabia had played it safe owing to its economic investments in India. Malaysia is also feeling particularly let down as on November 29, its Deputy Foreign Minister, Marzuki Bin Haji Yahya had called on Imran Khan in Islamabad trying to prevail upon Pakistan to represent itself in the summit. Imran had promised to send his Foreign Minister, Shah Mahmood Qureshi to represent Pakistan but the Saudi mounted so much pressure and it was so overpowering that Pakistan went completely unrepresented let alone the Foreign Minister or even a token representative.
Amid such developments, Imran Khan is receiving scathing angst within his country for abstaining from a critical summit, under Saudi pressure. Newspaper "Dawn" coming down heavily on Imran Khan has described the refrain as bad diplomacy. It has also recommended that it's time now for Pakistan to depend on its own foreign office professional diplomats than caving into any extraneous pressure. In a feeble defence, Imran Khan claimed to reassure the Kuala Lumpur hosts that he or Pakistan would never allow the Muslim Ummah to face fissures. However, this has not convinced the organisers behind the summit.
Pakistan's conspicuous absence also drew flak from Iran, Qatar and the Palestine delegation. Palestinians in the summit feel emboldened after attending the summit as it criticised the OIC for having done nothing for the Palestinians but hoped that under Dr Mahathir things might see improvement. There was also the Hamas delegation led by its political bureau chief, Ismail Haniyeh. Reacting to the summit, the think tank Jerusalem Centre for Public Affairs has said that this much-hyped Kuala Lumpur summit might encourage the Palestinians to further their cause.
With Pakistan's apparent exclusion, it's unlikely to garner support towards its causes for Kashmir. Also, today the international Muslim world stands vertically polarised in the wake of the Kuala Lumpur summit.
This said, obviously to outsmart OIC, the Kuala Lumpur summit spoke rather vehemently about the plight of the Uighur Muslims in China and it would seem the voices are highlighted against China which is yet another setback for Pakistan which has chosen not to criticise China for its excesses on the Uighurs.
The summit also had the presence of hate preacher, Zakir Naik though his articulations, if any haven't come to notice as yet except his resorting to Twitter that Muslims should avow not to wish Christians 'happy Christmas'. Such archaic and parochial thoughts do not merit endorsement by Mahathir and Erdogan. Instead, they should call upon those Muslim zealots to be progressive and forward-thinking, shunning medieval laws to make the present world more habitable. The recently awarded death sentence to a Pakistani teacher for alleged blasphemy is a case in point. Also, while criticising India for its Citizenship Amendment Act, Mahathir's statement that if he did the same in Malaysia doesn't behove him as a world-class statesman which he pretends to be.
Amid these developments evolving the recently held Kuala Lumpur summit, it would be very interesting to note the fresh stance of Malaysia and Turkey towards Pakistan which has for obvious opportunistic reasons jumped to the Saudi Camp ignoring 'committed friends'.
Shantanu Mukharji is a retired IPS officer, a security analyst and also a former National Security Advisor to the PM of Mauritius. Views expressed are strictly personal