The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) has always taken a negative attitude towards India, except in March 2019 when it went along with an extraordinary step taken by the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which hosted the 46th session of the organisation’s Council of Foreign Ministers meeting. As hosts, the UAE took the initiative to invite the late Sushma Swaraj, who was then external affairs minister, as guest of honour, to the meeting in Abu Dhabi. It was to UAE’s credit that it did not cancel the invitation, though Pakistan threw a tantrum and its foreign minister refused to attend the inaugural session due to Swaraj’s presence. It was also noteworthy that while the meeting adopted its customary resolution on the situation in Jammu and Kashmir, the ministers’ Abu Dhabi Declaration did not mention it or make a reference to the situation of the Muslim minority in India.
In sharp contrast to what transpired at Abu Dhabi, the 48th session of the OIC’s Council of Foreign Ministers meeting which was held in Pakistan on 22-23 March took strident positions against India. Thus, the Islamabad Declaration became a vehicle for Pakistani propaganda against India. Both the substance of the three India-related issues mentioned in the Islamabad Declaration and the language used merit a full look.
The OIC has adopted resolutions of Jammu and Kashmir for over three decades. It has succumbed to Pakistani pressures on the issue and hence these resolutions always echo Pakistani views on the “rights of the people of J&K to self-determination” in accordance with the UN resolutions. Since the constitutional changes of 5 August 2019, the OIC has also followed Pakistan’s lead in “rejecting” them and asking that they be reversed. Also, the demographic character of the erstwhile state should not be changed. This time it has gone further to demand that the delimitation exercise should not be undertaken too.
Interestingly, the OIC considered it fit to comment on the accidental missile launch and reiterate Pakistan’s demand that India should conduct a joint probe with Pakistan. The fact that India has regretted the accident and given the assurance that it will thoroughly investigate the matter was obviously not taken into account. Instead of considering these aspects, the Declaration said that it was a threat to peace and security in South Asia.
Paragraph 35 of the Islamabad Declaration was devoted to the Indian Muslim community. It needs to be quoted in full. It stated, “We denounce the systematic and widespread practice of discrimination and intolerance against Muslims in India, which has led to their political, social and economic marginalisation. We are deeply alarmed by the pernicious attacks on the Muslim identity in India as manifest in the discriminatory laws and policies in targeting the Hijab. We call upon India to immediately revoke such discriminatory laws, ensure the rights of Indian Muslims and protect their religious freedoms.”
While the current political uncertainties in Pakistan robbed Prime Minister Imran Khan and the military establishment of the opportunity to bask in the ‘glory’ of hosting this important OIC meeting, they would take satisfaction that the Islamabad Declaration is so critical of India. The Pakistanis would also be especially pleased that they were able to do their Chinese ‘overlords’ a remarkable service by inviting Foreign Minister Wang Yi as guest of honour to the meeting. Clearly, all OIC countries overlooked China’s abysmal track record of dealing with its Muslim minority, especially the Uighurs.
The evidence of Uighur ‘re-education’ camps is overwhelming. So is the Chinese insistence at obliterating vital Islamic injunctions relating to Ramzan fasting, among others. Ironically, while many Western countries have condemned this discrimination, the OIC countries have given China a free pass.
How should India respond to the latest OIC provocation? Should it confine itself to its traditional statement of rejecting the organisation’s interference in its internal affairs and carry on with business as usual bilaterally with Muslim countries? On their part these countries have always conveyed to India that the dynamics of OIC meetings are such that all members submit resolutions on issues of their concern and these are passed unopposed by any other member. Hence, they advise, India should not take them really seriously. That is what India has done till now.
There is merit in such an approach for while Pakistan has succeeded in securing the passage of anti-Indian OIC resolutions over the decades, India’s relations with many influential Islamic countries, including those in the Arabian peninsula, have qualitatively and positively changed. There are, however, some aspects of the present resolutions that India needs to take note of for different reasons and hence needs to consider if the traditional approach to OIC statements requires any modification.
Pakistan’s initial response to the missile accident was somewhat measured. However, later, it decided to use it to portray India as a country that could not be relied upon with strategic arms. Its demand for a joint probe was also propagandist for no country with nuclear weapons and advanced delivery systems would ever agree to one.
After the Islamabad Declaration came out Moeed Yusuf, Pakistan’s National Security Advisor, tweeted the hope that “it would increase global calls for accountability and a transparent joint investigation will be ensured”. This indicates that Pakistan is determined to use the incident as part of its anti-India propaganda kit.
In India the judicial test applied to the hijab in the context of uniforms is if it is an essential part of religion. The Islamabad Declaration puts it as a part of Muslim identity. It is necessary that Indian diplomats should clarify to their interlocutors that there is no prohibition on wearing the hijab and that the present judicial proceedings only concern the hijab as indeed all dress as identity markers in relation to a prescribed uniform.
While indulging in vile propaganda against India, Pakistan got the OIC to refer to it, in the Islamabad Declaration, as playing a “pivotal role as an anchor of stability in South Asia” and commended its “efforts for the promotion of regional peace” in accordance with the UN charter. All this the OIC said of a country which has been an epicentre of terrorism and has used terrorist groups as part of its state policies. Can any statement be more laughable?
The writer is a former Indian diplomat who served as India’s Ambassador to Afghanistan and Myanmar, and as secretary, Ministry of External Affairs. Views expressed are personal.