India’s most recent encounter with the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) bears an uncanny resemblance to India’s failed attempt to gain entry to the inaugural session of the same grouping held in Rabat, Morocco, in 1969 and for much the same reasons.

Background –

In 1969, New Delhi lobbied fiercely to wangle an invitation to the meeting. However, on Pakistan’s insistence the invitation that had been extended was withdrawn and India was denied membership of the OIC despite its insistence that as the country with the third largest Muslim population in the world it deserved a seat at the “Islamic” table.

Contrary to secularism –

  • It is being argued that New Delhi’s bid for membership of the OIC was both morally wrong and politically futile.
  • As a country whose foundational philosophy was based on secularism, it was inappropriate for India to join an organisation whose defining criterion was shared religious identity.
  • India’s membership of the OIC would be perceived as a powerful refutation of the basis on which 

Pakistan’s leverage over OIC –

  • Pakistan had great leverage with the conservative Arab monarchies for ideological reasons and because of the fact that its military was willing to provide the Arab monarchies with well-trained soldiers for hire that the latter needed to protect their insecure regimes.
  • Pakistan at that time also had close relations with Iran and Turkey with whom it shared membership of CENTO (Central Treaty Organisation, formerly the Baghdad Pact) and an anti-Soviet and pro U.S. orientation.

Change in scenario –

  • The situation today is both different and similar to 1969.
  • In an apparent gesture of goodwill, the organisers of the OIC Foreign Ministers meeting in Abu Dhabi, which in effect meant the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia invited External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj as the guest of honour and keynote speaker despite Pakistan’s objections.
  • This was both a reflection of India’s growing economic and political stature internationally and the desire on the part of the Gulf monarchies to cultivate New Delhi in order to take advantage of the opportunities provided by India’s expanding economy and its technologically skilled workforce.

The similarities –

  • First, the Abu Dhabi declaration issued at the end of the meeting did not contain even a simple expression of thanks to the Indian External Affairs Minister for addressing the plenary session of the assembly.
  • Second, to add insult to injury, the document’s only reference to the India-Pakistan stand-off stated that the OIC welcomes the “positive initiative undertaken by the Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan to hand over the Indian pilot as a gesture of goodwill to de-escalate tensions in the region”. The Pakistani “initiative” was given a very positive twist by decontextualising it totally.
  • Third, what was even more galling from the Indian perspective was the resolution on Kashmir that accompanied the Abu Dhabi declaration. This included the phrase “Indian terrorism in Kashmir” while condemning what it called “atrocities and human rights violations” in the State.
  • It is clear from this sequence of events and the wording of the documents that emanated from the OIC meeting that despite the invitation to Ms. Swaraj, the leopard has not changed its spots and that Pakistani influence within the organisation has diminished only marginally.

Conclusion –

It appears from hindsight that the External Affairs Minister’s participation in the OIC Foreign Ministers’ conclave, like the Indian attempt to gain admission into the Rabat conference in 1969, was nothing short of an avoidable fiasco.

SourceThe Hindu