Mahatir rules out creation of 'new bloc'

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysian Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad clarified that the Kuala Lumpur (KL) Summit 2019, which starts today (Wednesday), was never intended to create a new bloc of Muslim-majority countries, as alluded to by some of its critics.
The statement comes against the backdrop of a report which alleged that the Malaysian prime minister had said the KL Summit was intended to be a platform to replace the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation which “had failed to deliver the goods on issues faced by the Muslims across the world.”
“The KL Summit, which is into its 5th edition, is a non-governmental organisation initiative supported by the Malaysian government and is not intended to create a new bloc as alluded to by some of its critics,” a statement by the Malaysian PM Office said.
“The summit is not a platform to discuss religion or religious affairs but specifically to address the state of affairs of the Muslim Ummah,” the statement added.
“As a small nation, Malaysia is fully aware of its limitations and capabilities. We are merely attempting to contribute what little we can to the betterment of the Ummah,” it added.
The statement noted that members of the global Muslim community are currently faced with unprecedented oppression, with millions incarcerated or placed in detention camps; affected by civil wars that have caused total destruction of cities and nations; and forced to mass migrate to non-Muslim countries. It said that Muslims also have to contend with the rise of Islamophobia and irrational practices that go against the tenets of Islam, yet proclaimed to be in the name of Islam.
“It is these concerns that have led to the establishment of the summit, and this year’s edition attempts to go beyond intellectual debates and discussions,” it said.
“[It will] instead pursue specific measures, pillars or objectives which are deemed achievable and implementable,” the statement said.
The PM’s Office further explained that the selection of key nations as KL Summit 2019 participants was for specific objectives, but the list was not exhaustive once these initiatives have taken off. The summit, it said, attempts to spark a new approach in ummah collaboration.
“And if it is able to achieve something, then it would be able to be presented to the larger Islamic grouping and a bigger number of Muslim nations to evaluate whether these initiatives should be pursued on a larger scale,” it said.
The statement acknowledged that only a few national leaders had been asked to participate in this summit.
Separately, the Malaysian PM Office also confirmed that PM Imran Khan will not be attending the summit. In a statement posted on its official website, the PM Office said PM Imran had called his Malaysian counterpart on Monday, December 16 and expressed his regrets for not being able to attend the Kuala Lumpur Summit.
“Dr Mahathir appreciates Prime Minister Imran Khan’s call to inform of his inability to attend the summit where the Pakistani leader was expected to speak and share his thoughts on the state of affairs of the Islamic world,” it added.
Leaders from Iran, Turkey, and Qatar will be among hundreds of delegates attending the three-day event set to discuss myriad challenges faced by Muslims.
The summit has been pushed by PM Mohamad, who has long championed greater solidarity among the world’s Islamic communities — and wants to boost his country’s standing on the international stage.
With no high-level Saudi delegation coming but the President of arch-rival, Iran, and the emir of Qatar which is currently under a Riyadh-led blockade — in attendance, there has been speculation the forum could be used to counter the kingdom’s influence. Also present is Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose ties with Riyadh have worsened in recent times.
Saudi Arabia’s King Salman was invited but is not coming, Malaysian officials say. The meeting comes against the backdrop of high tensions between the Kingdom and Iran after assaults on oil tankers and installations in the Gulf.
Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said Wednesday an Islamic conference that includes leaders from Iran, Turkey and Qatar is aimed at tackling Islamophobia and finding solutions to challenges facing the Muslim world.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan arrived in Malaysia on Wednesday for the Kuala Lumpur Summit, which will also include the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, high-level delegations from Indonesia and Pakistan and Islamic scholars.
Mahathir said the three-day conference, which starts Thursday, will bolster Muslim unity and be a platform “to do something to improve the lives of Muslims the world over.”
“We feel that we need to overcome Islamophobia. We need to find a way to address our shortcomings, our dependency on non-Muslims to protect ourselves against the enemies of Islam,” he said at a welcoming dinner, without elaborating.
Saudi Arabia has voiced reservations amid the participation of leaders from the three rival countries. Mahathir said Saudi Arabia refused to join because it believes such meetings should be held under the 57-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation. But Mahathir said the conference is meant to be an avenue for Muslim intellectual discussion and not a rival to the OIC.
Pakistan leader Imran Khan was originally slated to attend but withdrew this week in a move seen to assuage its ally, Saudi Arabia.
In a message on the conference website, Mahathir said the Muslim world has been plagued by endless wars and for too long has “been associated with bad governance, endemic corruption and a breeding place for terrorism.” He said Muslim weakness and disunity has given credence to such anti-Islam propaganda.
“We have always reflected on how great, enriching and powerful the Islamic civilization was. It is a chapter in history and we yearn for its return. It will remain a yearning unless we do something about it,” he added.
All the leaders will speak at the conference Thursday. Organizers didn’t spell out specific issues that they would address.
The program showed that discussion panels will center on general topics such as national development, good governance and security. Rouhani leaves Friday for a two-day visit to Japan.–Agencies