Kuala Lumpur Summit 2019: a lost opportunity

In bygone days, I happened to lay my hands on “A Lost Opportunity,” a magnum opus of an eminent Russian writer, Leo Tolstoy.

The allegory teaches a lifetime lesson and should be preserved like a holy relic if peace has to be given a chance to prevail. I will, however, try to encapsulate the gist of his sublime work without narrating the entire episode at length.

In his novel, Tolstoy recounts a tale of two friendly families that readily share companionship and unanimously weather hardships of everyday life. Then, owing to a minor disagreement stemming from a trivial issue concerning the ownership of an egg, they grow estranged and sow seeds of discord for each other.

The enmity grew out of a negligible incident, which propels one of the families to set other family’s home ablaze, whose sparks, later on, also reach the house of the instigator’s home; reducing both houses to ashes. The regret of not availing themselves of an opportunity to mend fences continues to haunt their minds afterwards. The same opportunity, provided by the recently held Kuala Lumpur Summit (KLS) to Pakistan, could have been utilised to address Islamabad’s grievances in an increasingly hostile regional environment. Pakistan, by taking a political volte-face on the KLS, has indubitably lost a golden opportunity to pursue its political, economic and ideological aspirations.

Firstly, on the home front, Prime Minister Imran Khan’s single-handed decision to skip an enormously important summit depicts how the parliament was not taken into confidence. The beauty of a democratic state lies in seeking consensus of its members of the parliament who are the constitutionally elected representatives of its citizens. If the collective conscience of the people is not given priority, there leaves little room to distinguish a democratically elected prime minister from a monarch ruling with an iron fist. It will have wide-ranging repercussions on Pakistan’s international image.

By skipping the KLS, Pakistan has lost a golden opportunity of building alliances for support against India

Secondly, by skipping the KLS, Pakistan has lost a golden opportunity of building alliances for support against India. The Kashmir issue, which is of strategic, political, economic and ideological significance for Pakistan, was decided to be taken ahead with a new force. It was an unprecedented step since no Muslim organisation in the past, be it the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) or the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), had backed Pakistan on the Kashmir crisis. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) had even declared Kashmir “India’s internal matter.” The GCC, in return, signed dozens of business deals with India. Bahrain and the UAE also conferred their highest civil awards to Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi. By not joining Turkey and Malaysia, which have remained with Pakistan on Kashmir, on the platforms of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), Pakistan has made a lamentable foreign policy decision.

Thirdly, the KLS had visualised designing a world where problems faced by the Muslim Ummah, like rising Islamophobia, will be countered by creating a media outlet on the model of Al-Jazeera. Pakistan’s attendance would have ensured Pakistan’s opposition to the controversial Great Deal of Century on Palestine; backing for the Muslim Brotherhood and support for Al-Aqsa mosque, which is under threat by the extremist Jewish groups. Similarly, it also had envisioned to work collectively for the revival of Islamic civilisation and technological development in the Muslim world. The future of the three agreements, on media cooperation, in the defence sector, and on youth development, already signed by Pakistan, as a part of this forum is now hanging in the balance. Pakistan has been off-tracked by not going to Kuala Lumpur.

Fourthly, it was also a godsend opportunity to consolidate bilateral ties with Iran. Iran is presently distancing itself from India because the Iranian Parliament (Majlis-e-Shura) passed a resolution condemning Indian oppression in Kashmir. Likewise, Iran’s ambassador to India in September expressed Iran’s interest in building an LNG pipeline alongside the CPEC due to India’s adherence to US sanctions on Iran. Iran’s arch-enemy, Israel, recently invited India to join a proposed Israel-GCC trade corridor connecting the Mediterranean to the Gulf. It has further widened the Gulf between Iran and India. Diminishing the dependence of India on Iranian oil could have brought Pakistan and Iran together at the KLS.

Fifthly, Turkey, which has burdened the flow of Syrian refugees into its territory, had proposed to use the KLS platform to sort out the refugee crisis in the Muslim world. Pakistan, too, is grappling with over a million Afghan refugees present on its soil because of the perpetuation of decades-long civil War in Afghanistan. It was an opportune time to solve the troublesome issue of Afghan refugees from Pakistan.

Sixthly, it could have afforded tremendous economic opportunities for Pakistan. Malaysia had expressed its desire to buy the PAC JF-17 Thunder aircrafts from Pakistan. Iran, likewise, was mulling over the purchase of PAC MFI-17 Mushshak trainers from Pakistan. There were reports that Turkey and Malaysia were planning to sign investment deals with Pakistan. It could have boosted Pakistan’s shrinking economy.

Although there are reports that Pakistan was pressured by Saudi Arabia to cancel the KLS, yet Pakistan should now meticulously chart out its foreign policy priorities. Our national interest should reign supreme. Pakistan must accept a friend in need is a friend indeed!

The writer is a Research Officer at the Islamabad Policy Institute.


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