Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad’s recent comments on Kashmir reflected the sentiment shared by many in the country, Elina Noor, a senior Malaysian expert on international affairs, has said.
India’s decision to stop palm oil imports in response to the comments was expected, Ms. Noor observed and maintained that her country would look for alternative markets such as Pakistan. India’s ban would not hurt immediately but would prove to be challenging for Malaysia “if it continued”, she noted.
“Prime Minister Mahathir's concerns are certainly shared by a number of Malaysians, Muslims and non-Muslims alike. However, there are also Malaysians who feel that Mahathir breached diplomatic boundaries by voicing his thoughts so strongly and publicly,” said Ms Noor who is currently based at Hawaii’s Daniel K. Inouye Asia Pacific Centre for Security Studies.
Prime Minister Mohammad had expressed his concern on multiple occasions after India ended the special status of Kashmir on August 5, 2019 and in response India urged Malaysia to respect its sovereign decision.
Ms Noor said, “India's reaction to Mahathir's comments is understandable and expected. However, it does not negate the concerns held by many within and beyond India on the situation in Kashmir even if those concerns have not been expressed as explicitly as Mahathir's were.”
India had also hit out at Malaysia after a recent joint statement with Pakistan referred to Jammu and Kashmir. “India completely rejects the references made in respect of Jammu and Kashmir, which is an integral and inalienable part of India,” said the official spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs on February 6.
“Malaysia is hopeful that the restriction [palm oil ban] will be temporary and is reaching out to India to ameliorate tensions.At the same time, it is also reaching out to other markets to raise exports - including Pakistan, Malaysia’s third largest importer to make up for the shortfall,” Ms Noor said.
Insia’s ban affected Malaysia as India used to import a major share of palm oil from the Southeast Asian country. Palm oil production accounts for 37.9% of the agricultural sector’s contribution to Malaysia’s total GDP, but agriculture does not constitute a major part of the GDP. In 2018, agriculture made up 7.3%.