India’s invitation to Islamic Nation’s conclave may lead path to dialogue with Pakistan

New Delhi | February 24, 2019 5:18 PM

It is true that the most OIC countries do not wish the ongoing conflagration between India and Pakistan to intensify and want some kind of a dialogue to ensue between the two rivals.

By Amb Anil Trigunayat

Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC) is in the news again in so far as India is concerned. India has been invited to be the “Guest of Honour “ at their next meet in Abu Dhabi. Sushma Swaraj, Minister of External Affairs, has accepted to attend. While accepting the invitation of Sheikh Abdulla bin Zayed Al Nayhan , Foreign Minister of UAE to address the Plenary of the 46th OIC meet , the Statement from MEA underscored more the bilateral relationship with UAE “We see this invitation as the desire of the enlightened leadership of the UAE to go beyond our rapidly growing close bilateral ties and forge a true multifaceted partnership at the multilateral and international level. We see this invitation as a milestone in our comprehensive strategic partnership with the UAE. We also see this invitation as a welcome recognition 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”.

Although India has pre-warned that OIC should refrain from commenting on India’s internal matters including on J&K . What will be the outcome remains to be seen? Indeed if this time there is no reference to the situation of Muslims in J&K , which is raised annually at the behest and insistence of Pakistan, it will be a major breakthrough for Indian diplomacy. But if more of the same is the outcome we might have a difficult face-saving. This meeting is taking place in the backdrop of Pakistan based and sponsored Jaish-e- Mohammed’s (JeM) terrorist attack killing 42 CRPF personnel at Pulwama in J&K and its global condemnation and the worst ever near war-like situation between India and Pakistan. It is learnt that this time around Pakistan has been prevailed upon by the hosts and GCC countries and they reportedly have not opposed the idea of India being invited as the “Guest of Honour”.

India and the OIC have a chequered history mainly since 1969 it preferred Pakistan over India during its five decades of existence starting from the very beginning when the Indian leader of the delegation Fakhuddin Ali Ahmed ,who sat through in the allocated Villa , was not allowed to participate as a member and had to return from Rabat when they refused to accept the “Observer Status” even though India’s ambassador had spoken at the Plenary. The Kings of Morocco, Saudi Arabia and Jordan could not let their Pakistani brother-General down when the then Pakistani President General Yahya Khan pleaded that what face would he show to his people if India was admitted to OIC. The OIC meeting was taking place in the backdrop of the Indo-Pak war of 1965, attack on Al Aqsa mosque and the Arab-Israeli conflagration. The OIC leaders wanted it to be the uninterruptible collective voice of the Islamic world. The “ Talaq” between India and the OIC had taken place even before the marriage was consummated.

Since then under the garb of being an Islamic country, Pakistan has successfully spewed venom against India in this forum, especially on Kashmir, that represents 57 countries and has emerged as the second largest intergovernmental group after the UN and claims to represent and stand for Muslim countries. OIC’s credibility has been questionable as it continued to succumb to the irrational and vindictive approaches of some of its members including Pakistan. Initially, India used to react to its unilateral and ill-founded statements but it was decided at one time to junk and ignore it as it made no sense to waste efforts. India has excellent bilateral relations with most members of the OIC and in bilateral discussions, they would tell India not to pay heed to the standard statement even though it had to be issued unanimously. Some could abstain, if not overtly oppose but I guess it could be seen anti-Islamic. In the meantime to assuage India, they would often invite India to apply for “Observer Status” like Russia and Thailand.

Even King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia during his India visit in 2006 said that India should become the Observer at the OIC and he even ideally hoped that Pakistan, which has all along been opposing, would propose it. Since then 12 years have passed and the Pakistani venom has been legitimised by OIC if one goes by regular statements including the appointment of a “Kashmir Contact Group” and Special Envoy for Jammu & Kashmir that was junked by India rightly. Even in 2018 several statements have been issued by OIC against India on J&K and against the action of security forces. One can not expect a change of heart or tactic overnight even if the UAE has invited the “friendly country of India as the guest of honour in view of its great global political stature as well as its time-honoured and deeply rooted cultural and historical legacy, and its important Islamic component”.

The recent robust engagement and India’s ‘Link and Act West Policy” with West Asian countries and the major Arab states hankering for normalisation of relations with Israel and appreciation of India’s secular and benevolent policies and foreign policy stance has provided momentum to India becoming a closer partner of the Islamic world by becoming an “Observer” which many in India were not keen on as India rightly claims either full membership or nothing. India, after the creation of Bangladesh in 1971, has become the second largest Muslim nation in the world after Indonesia and hence cannot be ignored. It is also the only country which can boast of having minority Muslims reaching the highest positions including the three Presidents, Vice President, Chief Justices, and heads of Air Force, Intelligence etc. The top film stars in Bollywood and well-known artists and scientists are Muslim that attest to India’s international prestige including in the Islamic world.

Bangladesh and some other countries including Turkey have been demanding changes in the OIC Charter to enable India’s inclusion which is also the fastest growing major economy in the world an emerging regional power with global aspirations, potential and outreach which could provide significant benefits to the Organisation and its members. Keeping it out and at the Critics’ end is counterproductive. Hence the invite by Foreign Minister of UAE to her Indian counterpart. Recently during the visit of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman to India and Pakistan the issue would have been raised. In any case he enhanced Indian Haj quota to two lakhs that inert-alia would count the Indian population to be around 200 million in accordance with the Haj quota allocation formula.

A firm acknowledgment of India’s Muslim credentials, MBS visit, enhancement in Hajj quota and invite to External Affairs Minister to address OIC at the Plenary have obvious domestic political undertones as the General elections are around the corner and the opposition will surely play it up as propaganda. But that should not take away the import of this gesture if we are able to swing the EAM’s address to our advantage and unequivocally flag the Pakistan sponsored cross border terrorism at a forum which allows a free run to the sponsors of the heinous terrorist crimes. This year Afghanistan and Iran would also be vocal but that may be subdued by the Saudi-Iran rivalry and emerging importance of Taliban. However, the real litmus test will not be what India says at the Plenary but whether another India specific statement on JK is issued and how it will be worded. It is true that the most OIC countries do not wish the ongoing conflagration between India and Pakistan to intensify and want some kind of a dialogue to ensue between the two rivals. They might just try to “create conditions” for such a dialogue.

The author is former Ambassador to Jordan, Libya and Malta

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