The significance of Hadi’s ‘dialogue’

PAS president Hadi Awang’s recent “dialogue” with representatives of Afghanistan’s Taliban government raises a very important question: Was it sanctioned by Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob?

If it was, then it raises even more pertinent questions. Has the prime minister recognized the Taliban government? If so, why was there no announcement that Malaysia recognizes the Taliban government?

According to Hadi’s political secretary Syahir Sulaiman, the “dialogue” was arranged by the Foreign Ministry of Qatar upon a request from Hadi’s office and held in Doha during Hadi’s visit to that state last week.

Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah had earlier said that Malaysia was not in a hurry to recognize Afghanistan’s Taliban government and was still awaiting the UN’s decision on the matter.

So, with what authority did Hadi in his official capacity as the Special Envoy to the Middle East, which is a position with ministerial status, conduct the “dialogue”? Because he held the session in his official capacity as a minister in the Malaysian cabinet, it appears as if the Malaysian government recognizes the Taliban government, which is known for torture, discrimination against women and minorities, and a harsh form of Islamic discipline.

Is the Sabri government contradicting itself? One minister says something and another does another? Sabri needs to clarify Malaysia’s stand on recognizing the unelected Taliban government.

In defending Hadi’s action, Syahir had argued that a “dialogue” does not imply recognition since “the whole world, including the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), United Nations (UN), European Union (EU), US and China have been engaging with the Taliban government through multiple channels of dialogue”.

Syahir, however, has failed to mention that the above were directly-involved negotiators in seeking a settlement in the Afghan crisis whereas Malaysia isn’t. Putrajaya was never such a player and certainly does not have the stature of the US or China to dialogue with the Taliban to bring about a resolution.

Hadi’s “dialogue” is clearly a serious breach of protocol and one that Sabri must address. Unless there’s a political motive. With the Johor state elections coming up, Sabri may want to win more votes from the conservative Malay electorate who may be pleased by the government’s efforts at unifying the ummah.

Hadi himself has gone on the offensive and labeled the anti-Taliban sentiments as Islamophobia. If this is politics in view of the Johor elections, it is dangerous politics, using religion to get votes at the expense of good governance.

Not surprisingly, the opposition parties have remained silent on this issue. Again, perhaps, for political advantage. They don’t want to be seen as being anti-Islam and drive the conservative Malay vote away from them.

Hasn’t anyone thought of treating the voters as equals and simply explaining correctly to the voters that this is not an anti-religion issue but one of respecting the stand the country takes in international relations and that that is good governance?

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