Major diplomatic success for India
India invited as ‘guest of honour’ is very significant given that the OIC has always taken Pakistan’s side regarding Kashmir
The invitation to India for the first time to attend the foreign ministers meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), since its inception 50 years ago, reflected the country's growing importance in the Islamic world and also an honour for its 185 million Muslims. The two-day conference ended on Saturday.
Amid heightened border tension between India and Pakistan, foreign ministers of the 57-member OIC, barring Pakistan, met in the UAE capital Abu Dhabi last week and discussed challenges being faced by the Muslim world and steps to promote peace and security, counter extremism, and combat exploitation of the religion.
Shah Mehmood Qureshi, foreign minister of Pakistan, one of the founder members of OIC, did not attend the meet protesting against the invite extended to India by the host, UAE. The invitation to India to be the "guest of honour" at the conference is very significant, given the fact that the OIC has always taken Pakistan's side on Kashmir issue. By inviting India as the guest of honour, OIC has sent a clear and positive signal that it appreciates its relationship with the country and wants to strengthen it in a way that in future, India can be part of OIC.
In a major diplomatic success for India, the Abu Dhabi Declaration issued after the summit did not talk about Kashmir as in the past. Only in the Tashkent Declaration in 2016, the Kashmir issue was not mentioned. For India, the Abu Dhabi declaration does not mention Kashmir or in any way hints at India as an aggressor. Pakistan could not manage to get it in the final document," sources said.
The declaration praised Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan for the decision to send Indian pilot Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman back, calling it a "goodwill gesture". In a balancing act the OIC, however, allowed Pakistan diplomatic space to attack India through various resolutions sponsored by it which did not find place in the final declaration.
Such resolutions go without any debate or discussion and have not much significance. Also, since India is not there, Pakistan can propose and get passed any resolution. For India, the non-mention of the Kashmir issue in the final declaration matters and this is a major diplomatic success for the country.
As part of the 'Resolutions on Political Affairs', Pakistan proposed two resolutions—one on "Jammu and Kashmir Dispute" and the other on "The Peace Process Between India and Pakistan," which were adopted by the meet. India's stand on the issue is very clear and consistent that Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of the country and has rejected any third-party intervention in settling the dispute.
UAE and Saudi Arabia, considered to be close allies of Pakistan, are said to have played a significant role in defusing the recent tension between the two neighbours after the attack on a CRPF convoy in Pulwama in Jammu and Kashmir and ensuring the release of an IAF pilot from Islamabad's custody.
Shaikh Mohammad bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces held telephonic conversations with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Pakistan premier Imran Khan to de-escalate the tension between the two countries. Saudi Ambassador to India, Saud Mohammed Al-Sati also met Modi. The Crown Prince was the chief guest at the 68th Republic Day celebrations in 2017. This was the first time that India invited a leader as chief guest at its Republic day function who was neither a Head of State nor Head of Government. Saudi Arabia's all powerful Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman visited India last month, a few days after the Pulwama attack to hold talks with Modi. A joint statement issued later said the "Prime Minister and His Royal Highness condemned in the strongest terms, the recent terrorist attack on Indian security forces on February 14, 2019 in Pulwama in Jammu and Kashmir."
India's political and trade ties with Saudi Arabia and the UAE have seen a considerable increase in the past, they have been given a new impetus and a special strategic character under Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Its influence with the OIC heavyweights like UAE and Saudi Arabia have added new dimensions to India-Pakistan crises and diplomatic efforts to resolve them. The significance the UAE attached to India can be gauged from the statement of its foreign ministry which said that "friendly Republic of India with all its international political weight and diverse cultural heritage and an important Islamic component" has been invited as a guest of honour.
Addressing the plenary session of the meet on Saturday, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, without naming Pakistan, a founding member of OIC, said that the OIC nations must tell countries supporting terrorism to dismantle terrorist infrastructure and stop providing funds and sheltering terror outfits. "… we must tell the states who provide shelter and funding to the terrorists to dismantle the infrastructure of the terrorist camps and stop providing funding and shelter to the terror organisations, based in their countries," she said.
The invitation to India has been rightly described by the Ministry of External Affairs as a "welcome recognition of OIC of the presence of 185 million Muslims in India and of their contribution to its pluralistic ethos, and of India's contribution to the Islamic world." The OIC, formerly known as Organisation of Islamic Conference, is the second largest inter-governmental organisation in the world after the United Nations. It describes itself as "the collective voice of the Muslim world" and its stated objective is "to safeguard and protect the interests of the Muslim world in the spirit of promoting international peace and harmony among various people of the world."
Following a fire at Al Aqsa Mosque, the second holiest place of Muslims after Mecca, in Jerusalem on August 21, 1969, the former Mufti of Jerusalem describing the arson a "Jewish crime" called for all Muslim heads of state to convene a summit.
A summit of representatives of 24 Muslim majority countries was held in Rabat, Morocco. India was invited as an official delegation in September that year. The then Indian Ambassador attended the first session waiting for the arrival of the Indian delegation led by Congress leader and then Union Agriculture Minister Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed, who later became the President.
However, Ahmed after his arrival could not attend the meet as the invitation was withdrawn after then Pakistan President Yahya Khan objected to India's participation. Khan is said to have had locked himself in his room and threatened to boycott the summit if the Indian delegation was allowed to attend the summit.
The membership of the OIC is reserved for Muslim-majority countries. However, some countries like Russia and Thailand that have significant minority Muslim population are present at the forum as observer states. At the 45th session of the Foreign Ministers' meeting in May last year, the host Bangladesh had suggested that India, having third largest Muslim population after Indonesia and Pakistan, should be accorded the Observer status but Pakistan opposed it.
The fact that India attended the OIC meet as the 'guest of honour' is significant in a number of ways, particularly its relationship with Pakistan. Islamabad may see India's inclusion into the OIC, if it happens, as an irritant to its international position. Pakistan has invariably used OIC platform to raise the Kashmir issue. India has maintained that Kashmir is its integral part and OIC has no locus standi to discuss it.
(The author is a former Editor of
PTI. He has also served as West Asia
Correspondent for PTI, based in Bahrain from 1988 to 1995. The views expressed
are strictly personal)