PM Imran Khan cancels trip to Malaysia under pressure from Saudi Arabia


Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan has cancelled a planned visit to Malaysia under pressure from Saudi Arabia, according to a number of diplomatic sources.

In what will be seen as a deeply humiliating episode, Khan took the decision after being summoned to Riyadh for talks with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Khan had earlier accepted an invitation from Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohamad to attend a summit next week in Kuala Lumpur.

Middle East leaders expected to attend include Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim Hamad al-Thani, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.

But as Middle East Eye reported last year, the Pakistani government was in a dire financial position before securing a $6bn bailout from Saudi Arabia. “We were facing really hard times,” Khan admitted at that time.

“We were highly pressurised into paying heavy debts. We’re desperate at the moment.”

Now it appears that that loan comes at a heavy diplomatic price: Khan is thought to have been among the leaders who suggested that the summit take place, during talks with Erdogan and Mahathir last September on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

Khan is reported to have telephoned Mahathir to inform him of his decision.

Saudi Arabia is understood to have been concerned that moves might have begun at the Malaysia summit to form a new body to replace the 57-member Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, which is headquartered in Jeddah.

Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi is also understood to have cancelled plans to attend the summit.

Earlier Tuesday, a Pakistani court sentenced the country’s former military ruler Pervez Musharraf to death, in his absence, after he was found guilty of treason over his 2007 imposition of emergency rule.

Musharraf currently lives in self-imposed exile in Dubai.