ISLAMABAD — Leaders of eight developing Muslim countries, including Iran, Turkey and Egypt, are meeting in Islamabad Thursday to discuss how they can increase trade and investment. The combined population of what is known as the Developing-8 or D-8 countries is around one billion, with a market worth $1 trillion. However, observers say that the proceedings are likely to be overshadowed by the Gaza conflict.
The presidents of Iran, Indonesia, Egypt and Nigeria, along with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, are scheduled to attend Thursday’s D-8 summit, which will be hosted by Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari. Malaysia and Bangladesh are sending lower level officials.
Officials say their discussions will focus on how to boost trade and jointly tackle the effects of the global economic recession on their nations.
On Wednesday, the foreign ministers from the D-8 countries held a meeting to set the scene for the summit, with Pakistan assuming the chairmanship of the group from Nigeria, which has completed its two-year term.
Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar welcomed the delegates to Islamabad, calling the event significant in addressing collective issues and achieving a sustainable future. She said Pakistan has invited corporate and business leaders from D-8 nations, and stressed the importance of a public-private partnership for establishing strong trade links.
“The D-8 group of countries came together in 1997 because we collectively believe that a better future for our people is within grasp. We share an intrinsic optimism about the benefits of working together, reducing the barriers between us, and enriching the lives of the one billion people that make up the D-8 family," said Khar.
In recent years, Islamabad has rarely hosted major international events, mainly because of ever growing security concerns stemming from the country’s fight against the Taliban and al-Qaida-led extremists, who have responded with frequent suicide bombings and other terrorist attacks.
Professor Hasan Askari Rizvi, an independent political and defense analyst, stressed the importance of Thursday’s gathering for Pakistan.
“D-8 meeting will boost Pakistan’s image abroad as a place where top leaders can go and hold meetings. This will negate or nullify the perception about Pakistan that it is a state in turmoil where nothing normal can be done," said Rizvi.
But many believe the meeting in Islamabad will be overshadowed by the Gaza conflict, as international and regional leaders scramble to de-escalate the violence there. This was evident in Pakistani Foreign Minister Khar’s opening remarks at the Wednesday’s ministerial-level meeting.
“I know that some of my colleagues have come early morning to Pakistan directly from Gaza. The innocent people of Gaza are in our thoughts and prayers, and Pakistan once again condemns Israel’s aggression against the people of Palestine," said Khar.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Nigerian leader Goodluck Jonathan and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan have already arrived in Islamabad amid extremely tight security around the Pakistani capital.
To enhance security, a public holiday has been declared on Thursday in Islamabad.
Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi is also due to attend the summit, and his arrival will mark the first visit by an Egyptian president to Pakistan in four decades. He plans to hold bilateral talks with Pakistani leaders after the summit and is scheduled to address a special session of Pakistan’s parliament on Friday.