Pakistan’s Imran Khan on state visit to Malaysia after pulling out of summit

Photo: AFPPakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan arrives in Kuala Lumpur today for meetings scheduled for tomorrow on trade, investment and

malaysia pakistanPhoto: AFPPakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan arrives in Kuala Lumpur today for meetings scheduled for tomorrow on trade, investment and Islamic issues with his Malaysian counterpart Mahathir Mohamad.

The encounter comes after Pakistan pulled out of a Malaysian-hosted summit for Muslim countries—held from December 18-21 last year—under Saudi Arabian pressure. Attended by rival Turkish-aligned states such as Iran and Qatar, Riyadh saw the summit as threatening the pre-eminence of the Saudi-based Organisation for Islamic Cooperation—a proxy for Saudi leadership on global Islamic matters.

The visit is likely a face-saving trip for Khan after the no-show in December. It also underscores the difficult balancing act that Islamabad faces in balancing its relations with Saudi Arabia—which financially supports Pakistan with billions in aid, including $20 billion in 2019—and Malaysia, with which Pakistan maintains friendly relations.

Today’s meeting will likely do little to restore Islamabad’s reputational damage among Muslim countries unaligned with Saudi Arabia, particularly Turkey. This illustrates the economic influence that Saudi Arabia holds over Pakistani foreign policy; something that Khan is unlikely to extricate himself from in the foreseeable future. Relations with Saudi Arabia’s rivals will likely remain friendly, but Pakistan will no longer be seen as “neutral”, as per its traditional positioning on the Islamic world’s regional and sectarian rivalries.

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