ISLAMABAD - Pakistan and Saudi Arabia will discuss ways to empower the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation today (Thursday) as Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal Bin Farhan Al-Saud will arrive here for talks.

On a day-long visit, the Saudi FM will hold meeting with Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and call on Prime Minister Imran Khan. “This would be his maiden visit to Pakistan, during which the exchange of views would cover bilateral matters and regional issues of mutual interest,” said a foreign ministry statement.

It added: “Pakistan and Saudi Arabia enjoy a deep-rooted and longstanding fraternal relationship. The two countries are committed to further strengthening bilateral cooperation in all fields. Frequent high-level visits are a key feature of the relationship and serve to further deepen and broaden mutual collaboration.”

Senior government officials told The Nation that the two sides will discuss empowering the OIC further and make it more active. “The KL summit will definitely come under discussion. And there are bilateral matters too,” said one official.

Another official said, “Saudi Arabia also wants to assure Pakistan that Riyadh respects it sovereignty and Islamabad is free to make its own decisions.”

This month, Pakistan completely boycotted the Kuala Lumpur Summit after much confusion and reports that it could unofficially replace the OIC and create another bloc to represent the Muslims.

Pakistan said it did not participate in the Kuala Lumpur Summit as some major Muslim-majority countries had concerns. Foreign Minister Qureshi called off his planned visit to attend the Kuala Lumpur Summit  after Prime Minister Imran Khan telephoned Malaysian counterpart Mahathir Muhammad and expressed his regrets for not being able to participate in the December 18-21 summit.

Qureshi was expected to represent Pakistan at the summit after PM Imran Khan’s decision to skip but his visit was also cancelled at the last minute.

The major Arab Muslim-majority states - Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt – were not made part of this group. The participation of states considered hostile to Saudi Arabia, like Qatar and Iran, has dramatically given birth to Saudi reservations about the agenda of the summit.

Pakistan’s absence in the four-day summit held in Malaysia to tackle issues related to Islamophobia irked many participating nations.

Prime Minister Imran Khan along with Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Bin Mohamad and Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan had been a prime mover behind the summit before boycotting it.

President Erdogan claimed Pakistan abstained from the Kuala Lumpur summit because the Saudi Arabian government had threatened economic sanctions against it.

Media reports said Saudi Arabia saw Turkey, backed by Malaysia and Pakistan, as a challenge to its leadership in the Islamic world, as the three nations had in the last decade strengthened their alliance.

President Erdogan said that it was ‘unfortunate’ that Saudi Arabia ‘pressured’ Pakistan. He divulged that the Kingdom had threatened to withdraw the loan from Pakistan’s central bank and replace four million Pakistanis working in Saudi Arabia with Bangladeshi workers.

Pakistan has been facing a major balance of payment crisis for which it had sought massive loans from Saudi Arabia, besides the global financial institution International Monetary Fund.

Lashing out at Saudi Arabia, the Turkish President said that the Kingdom had used similar threatening tactics against Pakistan due to its economic difficulties.

As a result, “Pakistan had to obey such threats.” Erdogan said, adding that Saudi and the UAE bullied other Muslim countries too. “This is not a first for the countries since they have the tendency to put pressure on other countries in doing or not doing things,” he said.

But Saudi Arabia denied the Kingdom had pressurised Pakistan to withdraw participation from the Kuala Lumpur Summit in Malaysia.

In a statement the Embassy of Saudi Arabia in Pakistan, termed “the news promoted by some parties about alleged pressures exerted on Pakistan by the Kingdom to discourage it from participating in the mini-summit held in Malaysia” as “baseless and fake.”

It stressed that “these false reports are already denied by the nature of solid brotherly relations between the two brotherly countries, and their agreement on the importance of the unity of the Islamic nation, maintaining the role of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, mutual respect for their sovereignty and the independence of their decisions, which is a key feature of the well-established historical relations between them.”

On December 20, Foreign Office spokesperson Ayesha Farooqui said Pakistan did not participate in the KL Summit as time and efforts were needed to address the concerns of major Muslim countries regarding possible division in the Ummah (nation).

She asserted that Pakistan will continue to work for the unity and solidarity of the Ummah, which is indispensable for effectively addressing the challenges faced by the Muslim world.

The Malaysian PM’s Office had already clarified that the Kuala Lumpur Summit 2019 was not intended to create a new bloc to replace the OIC.

It also said the summit was not a platform to discuss religion or religious affairs but specifically to address the state of affairs of the Muslim Ummah (nation).

“As a small nation, Malaysia is fully aware of its limitations and capabilities. We are merely attempting to contribute what little we can for the betterment of the Ummah (Muslims),” the statement said.

Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad also dismissed reports that Prime Minister Imran Khan had cancelled his trip for the Kuala Lumpur 2019 Summit following pressure from Saudi Arabia.

Dr Mahathir Mohammad said that Imran Khan could have his own reasons. “That’s his choice, we cannot force. In Islam, there is no compulsion in religion. He can’t come maybe because of other issues,” he said.