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Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Explained: What is OIC’s stand on Kashmir, and how has India responded?

New Delhi has hit back at the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation for references to Kashmir. Pakistan has a strong voice in the OIC, but India has strong bilateral relationships with most other member countries.

Written by Shubhajit Roy | New Delhi | Updated: December 5, 2020 3:38:43 pm
Then External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj as Guest of Honour at the OIC Foreign Ministers’ meeting in Abu Dhabi in 2019. (Express Archive)

On Sunday, India hit out at the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) for making factually incorrect and unwarranted references to Jammu and Kashmir. The 47th session of the OIC Council of Foreign Ministers on November 27-29 at Niamey, Niger, had made a reference to India over its policies on J&K.

In a statement, India advised the OIC to refrain from making such references in future and said it is regrettable that the grouping continues to allow itself to be used by a certain country “which has an abominable record on religious tolerance, radicalism and persecution of minorities”. This was a reference to Pakistan.

What is the OIC?

The OIC — formerly Organisation of the Islamic Conference — is the world’s second largest inter-governmental organisation after the UN, with a membership of 57 states. The OIC’s 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”. OIC has reserved membership for Muslim-majority countries. Russia, Thailand, and a couple of other small countries have Observer status.

What is India’s relationship with OIC as an organisation?

At the 45th session of the Foreign Ministers’ Summit in 2018, Bangladesh, the host, suggested that India, where more than 10% of the world’s Muslims live, should be given Observer status, but Pakistan opposed the proposal.

In 1969, India was dis-invited from the Conference of Islamic Countries in Rabat, Morocco at Pakistan’s behest. Then Agriculture Minister Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed was dis-invited upon arrival in Morocco after Pakistan President Yahya Khan lobbied against Indian participation.

In 2019, India made its maiden appearance at the OIC Foreign Ministers’ meeting, as a “guest of honour”. External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj addressed the Inaugural Plenary in Abu Dhabi on March 1 2019, after having been invited by Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, UAE Foreign Minister. The Ministry of External Affairs said then that the invitation was 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”.

This first-time invitation was seen as a diplomatic victory for New Delhi, especially at a time of heightened tensions with Pakistan following the Pulwama attack. Pakistan had opposed the invitation to Swaraj, and its Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi boycotted the plenary after the UAE turned down his demand to rescind the invitation. 📣 Follow Express Explained on Telegram

What is the OIC’s stand on Kashmir?

It has been generally supportive of Pakistan’s stand on Kashmir, and has issued statements criticising the alleged Indian “atrocities” in the state/Union Territory. These statements over the last three decades became an annual ritual, of little significance to India.

Last year, after India revoked Article 370 in Kashmir, Pakistan lobbied with the OIC for their condemnation of the move. To Pakistan’s surprise, Saudi Arabia and the UAE — both top leaders among the Muslim countries — issued nuanced statements, and were not as harshly critical of New Delhi as Islamabad had hoped.

Over the last one year, Islamabad has tried to rouse sentiments among the Islamic countries, but only a handful of them — Turkey and Malaysia — publicly criticised India.

In 2019 Mecca summit as well, the OIC criticised the alleged Indian “atrocities” in the state.

In 2018, the OIC General Secretariat had “expressed strong condemnation of the killing of innocent Kashmiris by Indian forces in Indian-occupied Kashmir”, described the “direct shooting at demonstrators” as a “terrorist act”, and “called upon the international community to play its role in order to reach a just and lasting solution to the conflict in Kashmir”.

The 2017 session of the OIC Foreign Ministers had adopted a resolution “reaffirming the unwavering support for the Kashmiri people in their just cause”, and “expressing deep concern at atrocious human rights violations being committed by the Indian occupation forces since 1947”.

At the 2018 meeting in Dhaka, however, “Jammu and Kashmir” figured in only one of 39 resolutions adopted, that too, along with 12 other states or regions worldwide. Pakistan accused Bangladesh of circulating the text very late. Even the resolution in Abu Dhabi, adopted the day after Swaraj spoke, condemned “atrocities and human rights violations” in Kashmir.

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How has India been responding to such criticism?

India has consistently underlined that J&K is an “integral part of India and is a matter strictly internal to India”. The strength with which India has made this assertion has varied slightly at times, but never the core message. It has maintained its “consistent and well known” stand that the OIC had no locus standi,

This time, India went a step ahead and said the grouping continues to allow itself to be used by a certain country “which has an abominable record on religious tolerance, radicalism and persecution of minorities”.

What is India’s relationship with OIC member countries?

Individually, India has good relations with almost all member nations. Ties with the UAE and Saudi Arabia, especially, have looked up significantly in recent years.

The Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, was a very special chief guest at the 68th Republic Day celebrations in 2017, the first time India had laid out the Republic Day red carpet for a leader who was neither a head of state nor a head of government. The Crown Prince had earlier visited India in February 2016, following a visit by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the UAE in August 2015.

Days before the OIC invitation to Swaraj in 2019, Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman had visited India. The invite may have been an important outcome of the MBS visit, apart from being an indication of India’s improved ties with both Saudi and the UAE.

Before Swaraj’s visit to Abu Dhabi, a report by the official Emirates News Agency had described India as a “friendly country” of “great global political stature”. The External Affairs Ministry had said the invitation indicated “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” and a “milestone in our comprehensive strategic partnership with the UAE”.

The OIC includes two of India’s close neighbours, Bangladesh and Maldives. Indian diplomats say both countries privately admit they do not want to complicate their bilateral ties with India on Kashmir, but play along with OIC.

What is the significance of India’s latest statement?

India now sees the duality of the OIC untenable, since many of these countries have good bilateral ties and convey to India to ignore OIC statements — but sign off on the joint statements which are largely drafted by Pakistan.

New Delhi’s statement on Sunday targeting the OIC grouping as being led by Pakistan has to be read in that context. South Block feels it is important to challenge the double-speak, since Pakistan’s campaign and currency on the Kashmir issue has hardly any takers in the international community.

India also wants to challenge this issue because of the possibility that the Joe Biden administration in the US — which may have a strong view on human rights in Kashmir — may issue statements that may complicate India’s image at the global stage.

With New Delhi preparing to take over a non-permanent member’s seat at the UN Security Council, it wants to use its diplomatic clout and goodwill to bury this issue at the global body in the next two years — and bring up the Pakistan-sponsored cross-border terrorism high on agenda.

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