Days after Pakistan faced embarrassment after it pulled out of the much-trumpeted Kuala Lumpur Summit at the eleventh hour, a report in the local media claimed that the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) did not pay heed to the Foreign Office’s warning of a potential diplomatic conflict between Islamabad and Riyadh in the backdrop of hostile relations between the latter and Ankara – a key participant of the summit.
Citing its sources, a local English daily reported that Prime Minister Imran Khan had accepted the invite from his Malaysian counterpart Mahathir Mohamad despite a forewarning by the Foreign Office that the “move would have implications” on the diplomatic front.
The publication said that the FO had advised caution when the government received the formal invitation.
“The Office also wanted to avoid grandstanding over the Summit as the Kingdom and its regional allies viewed it with suspicion,” the report quoted a senior Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) official.
“The government was informed in categorical terms that Pakistan’s participation in the Summit at any level was bound to invite Saudi anger,” the official said, adding: “We had suggested to first assess the purpose and objectives of the Summit.”
“The PMO, however, confirmed prime minister’s participation anyway,” he said.
A cold-war between Riyadh and Ankara – dating back to Arab uprising in 2008 – has divided the Middle East into two blocs, with Turkey siding with Iran and Qatar, two countries Kingdom has ideological conflicts with, and Kingdom supporting the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The relationship grew up to worsen after the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi last year which, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan alleged, was committed at the behest of Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman.
When asked whether the prime minister was not aware of the polarisation in the Muslim world, another official said: “In the PTI government, the FO has little role in policymaking. Most of the decisions on foreign policy are being taken without consulting the diplomats.”
Insiders, according to the report, accused the incumbent Foreign Secretary Sohail Mehmood of what they dubbed as the ineffectiveness of the Foreign Office.
“Mehmood rarely asserts his authority,” the report claimed, adding that many senior officials believe the FO is being held responsible for the “diplomatic blunders it has nothing to do with”.
“When your prime minister takes decisions on foreign policy on the spur of the moment without seeking advice from the diplomats, it is hard to avoid an embarrassing situation like this [Kuala Lumpur Summit],” an official lamented.
Pakistan was one of the first countries with whom Prime Minister Mahathir shared his plans for holding the summit when he met Prime Minister Imran along with President Erdogan on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session in New York in September this year. Later on, PM Imran formally conveyed his acceptance of the invitation for attending the summit when Malaysian Deputy Foreign Minister Marzuki Bin Haji Yahya called on him in Islamabad in November.
However, clouds of uncertainty started to loom over Pakistan’s presence at the Summit when Prime Minister Imran went on a hurried tour to the Kingdom on Dec 15, just three days before the event. A day earlier, Chief of the Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa had visited Abu Dhabi where he called on Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed bin Sultan Al-Nahyan.
Subsequently, on Dec 17, the government formally announced that it would not attend the event “at any level”. In a media talk, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi confirmed that Saudi Arabia and the UAE were “worried that the event could cause ‘division in Ummah‘ and lead to setting up of an organisation parallel to the existing Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC)”. It merits a mention here that the OIC is under the influence of mega-rich Kingdom.
On Friday, President Erdogan dropped a bombshell, saying that Pakistan decided to stay away from the Summit because of “Saudi threats of economic sanctions”.
“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,” Erdogan was quoted as saying.
He added that the kingdom has also threatened to withdraw money it had deposited in the State Bank of Pakistan. According to Erdogan, Pakistan had to comply with Saudi wishes “due to its economic difficulties”.