Turkey launches Islam's answer to G7

Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan sees his dream of a new Muslim economic club realised
A force promoting "peace and harmony" is how Necmettin Erbakan, Turkey's first Islamist leader, yesterday described the Developing Eight, an organisation he has just formed.

Prime ministerial hubris is understandable; Turks and others laughed at Mr Erbakan when he suggested forming a club for ambitious Muslim countries.

On Sunday, however, representatives from Turkey, Nigeria, Indonesia, Egypt, Pakistan, Malaysia, Bangladesh and Iran met in Istanbul to enshrine the principles of what will be known as the D8. What is more, all save Nigeria sent either their President or Prime Minister. Even the fragile President Suharto of Indonesia made an appearance, although he snoozed through Sunday's speeches.

The most noted absentee was Hosni Mubarak, Egypt's President, who is angry with Turkey for attacking Kurdish guerillas in Northern Iraq.

Apart from a piqued Egypt, the new club faces other challenges. Dispersed over three continents, D8 countries have little obvious common ground. Despite signing on Sunday a seductive commitment to "democracy rather than oppression", few D8 member states are democratic. While all are Muslim, there is a big difference between Nigeria, say, which has a big Christian minority, and Iran's Shia theocracy.

But when leaders forget tiresome details like these - as they did on Sunday - Muslim unity among developing countries is an enticing theme. When Mr Erbakan said yesterday that the D8 was not a Muslim club, he did so for the benefit of a sceptical Western press: D8 members reckon it is. What is more, they say the D8's limited numbers make it more effective than the cumbersome Organisation of Islamic Countries, a 56-member forum which agrees on little save its antipathy to Israel.

What the D8 is for is not yet clear. Not for wielding economic clout; the combined gross national product of the D8 countries is little more than half that of Italy, the weakest member of the D8's rich, Western equivalent, the G7. And the new club makes little sense as a trading bloc either; so far, apart from each another, the more dynamic members of D8 prefer to do business with neigh-bours and with the West, regardless of religious distinction.

That leaves politics. This was apparent when Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan's Prime Minister, used his speech at the summit to attack India's position on the disputed territories of Jammu and Kashmir. Mr Sharif confirmed suspicions that Pakistan will try and get the D8 to pressure India on the subject when he told The Independent: "We highlighted the problem today and will continue doing so until the issue is resolved."

It is unlikely that the D8 - "a non-political organisation" according to its architect - will take up cudgels on behalf of Pakistan. It is equally hard to see it coming down hard on Israel and the US, as Iran wants it to. Galloping defence co-operation between Turkey and Israel makes this impossible.

By next December, when the D8 leaders are scheduled to meet in Dhaka, it will be clearer whether the organisation is a mildly anti-Western talking- shop or a first step towards mutually beneficial co-operation. Sunday's declaration was longer on commitment to ideals than it was on costed proposals.

The organisation may face its first major test as early as tomorrow, when Mr Erbakan is expected to step down as Turkey's Prime Minister.

Future Prime Ministers may decide that Turkey should not - as it does now - pay the bills for the D8 secretariat in Istanbul. Mr Erbakan's most likely replacement, Tansu Ciller, gave an indication of her attitude towards the organisation when she gave a press conference on Saturday. Despite being under the same roof as Messrs Rafsanjani and Suharto, she made no reference to the D8, but concentrated on domestic politics.

tIstanbul (Reuters) - Unidentified assailants launch-ed a rocket attack on the main police headquarters in Istanbul yesterday, the Anatolian news agency said. A building housing the narcotics squad was hit but it was not immediately clear if there were any injuries.