Recently, India lashed out at the Organisation of the Islamic Cooperation (OIC) for being “communal minded” and “hijacked by vested interests” – a thinly veiled reference to Pakistan – after the grouping called on the UN Human Rights Council to take “necessary measures” on the issue of Muslim girl students being told not to wear the hijab in Karnataka schools.
Back to Basics
What is the
Organisation of the Islamic Cooperation (OIC) ?
- The Organisation of the Islamic Cooperation is the world’s second largest multilateral body after the UN. It counts 57 members, all of which are Islamic countries or Muslim majority members.
- 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”.
- The Central African Republic, Russia, Thailand, Bosnia & Herzegovina, and the unrecognised Turkish Cypriot “state”, have Observer status.
- The Organisation of the Islamic Conference was established by the First Islamic Summit Conference held in Morocco in September 1969, to marshal the Islamic world after an act of arson at the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jersualem by a 28-year-old Australian in 1969. It plunged the Middle East into its worst crisis after the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.
- It was known as the Organisation of Islamic Conference until 2011.
India & OIC
- As a country with the world’s second largest Muslim community, India had been invited to the founding conference at Rabat in 1969, but was humiliatingly ejected at Pakistan’s behest. Then Agriculture Minister Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed was dis-invited upon arrival in Morocco. In 2006, as India turned the economic corner and improved ties with the US, Saudi Arabia invited Delhi to join as an observer.
- But India stayed away because of a multiplicity of reasons, not least of which was that as a secular country, it did not want to join an organisation founded on religion. Plus there was the risk that improving bilateral relations with individual member states would come under pressure in a grouping, especially on issues such as Kashmir.
- That invitation came again at the 45th session of the Foreign Ministers’ Summit in 2018, when Bangladesh, the host, suggested that India, where more than 10 per cent of the world’s Muslims live, should be given observer status but Pakistan opposed the proposal.
- The OIC is mainly controlled by Saudi Arabia, but Pakistan, as the only Islamic country with nuclear weapons, has had a large say since its inception. As a result, over the years, the organisation has issued several statements on Kashmir that have been supportive of Pakistan and critical of Indian “atrocities”. In the 1990s, Delhi got used to combating these statements at home and abroad. And it was hardly friendless in the OIC.
- After building close ties with powerful members such as UAE and Saudi Arabia, India has been confident of riding over any statement by the grouping. India has consistently underlined that J&K is an “integral part of India and is a matter strictly internal to India”, and that the OIC has no locus standi on the issue.
- In 2019, India made its maiden appearance at the OIC Foreign Ministers’ meeting, as a “guest of honour”.
- Then 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.
- Within months of this, when India’s dramatic changes in Jammu & Kashmir took the world by surprise, while OIC flagged its concerns and the “internationally recognised status of the J&K dispute”, UAE and Saudi Arabia individually took more nuanced positions.
- 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.
India’s response to the hijab row
- Given India’s sanguine response to OIC’s Kashmir statements, the strongly worded statement on the hijab row may appear unusual. But Delhi had already conveyed a different approach with OIC back in 2020.
- That year, after OIC once again hit out at India on Kashmir, Delhi went a step further than its usual boilerplate statements, 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”.
- Officials then said it was untenable that individual members with good bilateral relations with India are happy to sign off on anti-India OIC statements.
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