Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan will skip the Kuala Lumpur Summit of Islamic nations, under pressure from close ally Saudi Arabia, media reports said on Tuesday.
The Kuala Lumpur Summit hosted by Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad from December 19-21 was being seen as an attempt to create a new bloc in the Muslim world that could become an alternative to the dysfunctional Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) led by the Saudis, according to Pakistani media reports.
The news of Khan's non-participation was announced by the Malaysian Prime Minister's Office in a statement on Tuesday.
It said Prime Minister Mahathir received a call from Prime Minister Khan on Monday during which he expressed regret for not being able to attend the Kuala Lumpur Summit.
Mahathir said he was hoping that Khan was expected to speak and share his thoughts on the state of affairs of the Islamic world.
The statement also said that the Malaysian prime minister would also like to "correct some misinformation" that alleged Mahathir as saying that the KL Summit was intended to be a platform to replace the OIC.
Prime Minister Khan had earlier confirmed his participation at the KL Summit which was expected to explore new and workable solutions for problems afflicting the Muslim world.
On Monday, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Information and Broadcasting Firdous Ashiq Awan said whether premier Khan should attend the KL Summit would be taken "in accordance with national interests".
The Dawn newspaper, quoting sources within the Foreign Office, reported that no official from Pakistan will now attend the summit.
The development comes days after Khan's return from Saudi Arabia, where he had gone on a one-day visit on Saturday to assuage the reservations of the kingdom about Pakistan's participation in the Kuala Lumpur Summit, among other issues.
Initially, Khan sent Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi to visit Riyadh. Later, Khan himself air-dashed to the Saudi capital for a meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman Al Saud.
Khan's visit to Saudi Arabia was his fourth since May and it came after the concerns expressed by Saudi Arabia over Pakistan's acceptance of the Kuala Lumpur Summit invite, The Express Tribune reported.
The paper noted that Khan assured Prince Mohammed that Pakistan will never undermine Saudi interests.
The KL Summit is a brainchild of 94-year-old Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir. The plan for the summit was finalised during a trilateral meeting involving top Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Pakistan Prime Minister Khan and Malaysian President Mahathir in September in New York on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly session.
The summit is also being attended by leaders of Turkey, Qatar and Iran in addition to hosts Malaysia. Around 450 leaders, scholars, clerics, and thinkers from 52 countries are expected to attend the event.
This holding of the KL Summit has apparently upset the Saudis, who are taking it as a challenge to their dominance in the politics of the Muslim world, Pakistani media reports added.
Oil-rich Saudi Arabia is a key ally of cash-strapped Pakistan.
Saudi Arabia was the first country to extend a financial aid package to the government of Khan to deal with the balance of payment crisis. Riyadh is also a key player in helping Pakistan improve its ties with the United States. It is believed that the Saudi crown prince had helped Imran secure the White House invitation in July this year, The Express Tribune reported.