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In concession to Pakistan, Saudi Arabia to host OIC meet on Kashmir

NEW DELHI: In a move that could impact ties with India, Saudi Arabia has agreed to hold a special foreign ministers’ meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) devoted to Kashmir after it persuaded Pakistan to back out of an Islamic summit hosted by Malaysia last week.

The gesture by the kingdom was reportedly conveyed to the Pakistani government during Saudi foreign minister Faisal bin Farhan Al-Saud’s visit to Islamabad this week. It was a concession secured by Pakistan to compensate for PM Imran Khan being compelled by Saudi Arabia to pull out of a meeting on Islamic issues chaired by Malaysian PM Mahathir Mohamad in Kuala Lumpur.

After having been a key mover behind the KL summit along with Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Mahathir, Pakistan pulled out of the conclave to discuss issues agitating the Muslim world. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani attended the meeting, a likely red rag for Saudi Arabia as well.

While dates for the foreign ministers’ meet are yet to be firmed up, the very fact of Saudi Arabia agreeing to organise the meeting will be viewed negatively in New Delhi, which has gone the extra mile to build a strategic partnership with the kingdom. Pakistan has felt the Islamic world, particularly OIC, did not support it enough after India’s August 5 decision.

Saudi Arabia and the UAE are pillars of India’s renewed foreign policy push in the Islamic world which has helped contain the diplomatic fallout of decisions such as ending J&K’s special status.

Pakistan has felt the Islamic world, particularly OIC, did not support it enough after India’s August 5 decision. India has already begun working on a diplomatic pushback. It is no coincidence that foreign minister S Jaishankar spent two days in Tehran meeting his counterpart Javad Zarif on his way back from the 2+2 meeting in the US.

It was on the margins of the UN general assembly that Turkey, Pakistan and Malaysia held their first trilateral meeting, where they decided to launch a TV channel to counter “Islamophobia”.

The idea of the summit flowed from there. Turkey, according to sources, harbours ambitions of leading the Islamic world, wresting the mantle from Saudi Arabia. Erdogan allowed Malaysia to host the summit, which could, if allowed, rival OIC.

Saudi Arabia, as the acknowledged leader of the Islamic world, found itself threatened, particularly with Iran joining in. For Saudi Arabia, Qatar’s emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, Erdogan and Rouhani being at an alternative Islamic summit was difficult to swallow. King Salman reportedly spoke to Mahathir to back down, but when that did not happen, Riyadh squeezed Pakistan to absent itself. Indonesia, too, decided to stay away from the summit.

Pakistan’s PM Imran Khan pulled out of the summit at the eleventh hour, drawing flak both externally as well as at home.

Speaking to the Turkish media, Erdogan was quoted as saying, “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 added that Saudi Arabia also threatened to withdraw money it had deposited in the State Bank of Pakistan, underlining Islamabad’s need for Saudi assistance to deal with its economic mess.

Source: Economic Times