By Md. Muddassir Quamar
Pakistan’s agenda of internationalizing the Kashmir issue is nothing new. Islamabad has since 1948 made Kashmir a central plank in its foreign policy especially in relations with the Arab and Islamic countries. It has used both bilateral and multilateral forums to raise the issue including at the United Nations (UN) and Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). Traditionally, Pakistan had received support from the Gulf Arab monarchies including Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates (UAE) and other Islamic countries such as Iran and Turkey.
The OIC has especially been one of the major international platforms for Pakistan to carry out its anti-India tirade since the first Islamic Summit held in Rabat in 1969 which formed the basis for the organization. Pakistan has used the OIC platform to internationalize the Kashmir issue, rather unsuccessfully. In 1994, on Pakistan’s initiative, the OIC formed a Contact Group on Jammu and Kashmir with Turkey, Azerbaijan, Niger, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia as its members. The Contact Group has ever since taken upon itself to champion the Pakistani position on the Kashmir issue disregarding the Indian position altogether.
The OIC had continued its activism on Kashmir despite New Delhi’s objections underlining that the group has no locus standi on the issue as it is internal matter and Kashmir is an integral part of India.The change in the dynamics of bilateral relations with important members of the organization, such as Saudi Arabia, UAE and Iran, over the years had not proved moderated the OIC’s position due to Pakistani influence. Although Saudi Arabia and UAE have gradually moderated their position on the issue given Indian sensitivities and the growing strategic ties.
India has, however, made some progress in improving ties with the OIC reflected in the invitation to India to attend the plenary session of the 46th OIC Foreign Ministers’ Meeting held in Abu Dhabi in February 2019 as a “guest of honor.”Pakistan had made some noise on invitation to India but both Saudi Arabia and UAE who have in recent years emerged as India’s most important regional partners in the Gulf had refused to heed to the Pakistani objections.
After the August 2019 Indian decision to abrogate the Articles 370 and 35A revoking the special status of J&K, Pakistan has renewed attempts to internationalize the Kashmir issue. It has been raising the Kashmir issue at multiple levels including trying to convene a OIC meeting to condemn the Indian decision. Although Islamabad has not received much support from most OIC members, Turkey has clutched on the issue echoing the Pakistani stand at different multiple forums including the UN General Assembly painting India as an “occupation force” and calling for international intervention to resolve the Kashmir issue.
At the OIC too Pakistan has received overwhelming support from Turkey on the issue. The reason for Ankara’s hyper activism on the issues is related to Turkey harboring the desire to displace Saudi Arabia as the leader of the Islamic world. While Pakistani obsession with Kashmir is old, Turkish objective is to embarrass Saudi Arabia which had refused to publicly raise the issue either bilaterally or at multilateral forums including the OIC.
In fact, the Saudi position on Indian decision has caused tensions between Riyadh and Islamabad. In August 2020, the Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi had lashed out at the Kingdom’s leadership for not convening a OIC Foreign Ministers’ meeting to discuss Kashmir. This had resulted in Riyadh recalling its financial loan of US$ 1 billion from Pakistan forcing it to take a loan from China.
Pakistani frustration with Saudi Arabia and UAE not allowing the OIC forum for unnecessary anti-India activism in the wake of the Indian decision to alter the status of J&K was palpable in the ensuing tensions between the traditional allies, and Erdogan, true to his foreign policy character, was trying to fish in the troubled waters.
In December 2019, for example, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had taken the lead to convene a parallel Islamic summit in Malaysia. Pakistan which had initially expressed enthusiasm at the prospect was forced to withdraw at the last minute under Saudi pressure.
Nonetheless, in the changing regional and global geopolitical circumstances, Saudi Arabia has undertaken steps to reset ties with Pakistan. Islamabad wants to mend relations with the Kingdom given the economic and political cost of the strained relations. On the other hand, Saudi Arabia remains concerned with attempts by Turkey and to some extent Iran to bring Pakistan under their spheres of influence. Therefore, Riyadh has responded positively to recent Pakistani overtures notable from Imran Khan’s May 2021 visit to the Kingdom.
The latest OIC statement on Kashmir is therefore part of the ongoing churn for leadership within the Islamic world. The OIC statement came after a meeting between its Secretary General Yousef Al-Othaimeen and Indian ambassador to Riyadh Ausaf Sayeed, which the Ministry of External Affairs later clarified came after on the request made by the OIC secretariat located in Jeddah. New Delhi expectedly rejected the OIC request for sending a delegation to Kashmir reiterating its stand that Kashmir is an integral part and an internal matter of India.
The OIC’s statement nonetheless is a reminder of the need to remain alert to the regional and geopolitical developments and not take the softening of its stance in the past for granted. The OIC is a political organization and geopolitical developments can affect its stand on issues relevant for India.The ups and downs in Pakistan’s relations with the important Islamic countries notwithstanding, Pakistan remains a part of the OIC and an irritant to India.
The OIC’s fresh attempt to reinvigorate its relevance on J&K has rightly been rejected by India, but it is a warning to avoid complacency. At the same time, it offers newer opportunities for India to engage the group through important members and underline the folly of the Pakistani position on Kashmir and the way Islamabad has sponsored militancy, radicalization and terrorism in South Asia which poses security threats not only for India but for the whole South and West Asia region.
(The author is Fellow, MP-IDSA and expert on Middle East strategic affairs. Views expressed are of the author and do not reflect the views of the MP-IDSA or of the Government of India nor does it reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online.)