Update of May 22, 2010:
By K.N. Pandita
On 18 May, foreign ministers of fifty-seven Islamic countries — members of the Organization of Islamic Conference — met in Dushanbe (Tajikistan) to do business for two days in the course of 37th annual session. This is OIC’s second summit in a former Soviet Union’s federating unit; the first one was in the Trans-Caspian state of Azerbaijan in 2006.
During the early days after the dismemberment of the Soviet Union, the OIC exercised caution in making inroads into the now independent states of Central Asia. The Islamic world, usually fed with enormous anti-Soviet propaganda by the capitalists, had, in their wisdom, expected a sudden but violent Islamic upsurge after these seven predominantly Muslim states declared their independence from the Soviet Union. But that did not happen. To their surprise, they found that not only for basic infrastructure, even in administrative sphere, the independent Central Asian States were ahead of most of the member countries of the OIC.
However, with groundswell in Islamic radicalism articulating in Ferghana in Uzbekistan as one of its epicenters, and the rise of Taliban in the southern underbelly region of Central Asia with outreach to the Central Asian heartland, world powers as well as Islamic countries began evincing interest in the region.
Choosing Dushanbe as the venue for 37th session, OIC wants to convey somewhat interesting message to the region and the world at large. The agenda reads like a who’s-who of Islamic conflicts; the Middle East conflict, the Afghan situation, Iraq, the Kashmir dispute, Somalia, Cyprus, and Kosovo. The OIC’s future role in regulating conflicts in its member-states, providing security and keeping the peace in the Islamic world was under discussion.
India’s demand that having the second largest Muslim population, she be admitted as member of the OIC was turned down by the OIC. But instead, on the initiative of Pakistan, a key-member of the OIC, the organization granted ‘Observer Status’ to All Party Hurriyat Conference of Kashmir. This showed that more than the real interests of the Muslims world over, the OIC is bogged with political constraints and considerations.
Mirwaiz Omar Farooq, at that time chief of APHC, was formally invited by the secretary general of OIC to attend its summit in Casablanca. Thereafter APHC continued to send its representative to the OIC meets whenever scheduled with the patent agenda of raising the issue of Kashmir dispute before the Muslim fraternity. APHC worked in close liaison with Pakistani delegates while making Observer comments.
2003 split made, Sayyid Ali Shah Geelani, a staunch protagonist of Jammu and Kashmir’s secession from India and accession to Pakistan, the chief of his faction of Tahreek-i-Hurriyat-i-Kashmir. Hoping that the hard-line leadership would help her Kashmir cause on international forums, Pakistan entreated OIC secretary general to drop Mirwaiz and instead invite Ali Shah Geelani as Hurriyat Observer. But a strong counter effort by Mirwaiz to get Geelani faction de-recognized, an effort which had token him on a visit to Jeddah on 26 September 2004 to meet Mian Nawaz Sharief and ISI sleuths, and where Sardar Abdul Qayyum Khan of PoK also joined them, resulted in his reinstatement as Hurriyat Observer.
It was after OIC summit in Doha, Qatar, when Mirwaiz met with Pakistan President General Musharraf on the sidelines of the conference and talked to him about Kashmir dispute. From what Musharraf said about the issue, Mirwaiz carried the impression that Pakistan was willing to give up emphasis on UN Resolutions on Kashmir. In an interview to the Gulf News that Mirwaiz gave on his return from Doha, he said,” There is a shift in Pakistan’s position on Kashmir. UN Resolution is fifty years old and cannot be implemented.”
A Pakistani journalist claimed that General Musharraf hadn’t discussed the plan in question either with the Prime Minister or the cabinet, and that Mirwaiz was the only person to whom he had disclosed it and that too in Amsterdam and not in Doha.
Soon after that General Musharraf floated his seven-zone plan for the settlement of Kashmir dispute. Besides APHC chief Mirwaiz Omar Farooq, PDP leader Mufti Saeed lost no time in endorsing General’s proposal. Pakistan’s pro-government media and pro-military establishment gave all possible hype to the proposal but India reacting coolly confined to Prime Minister’s reflection that border could not be redrawn in Kashmir.
Recently some beneficiaries of the days of late Benazir’s tenure as prime minister have claimed that the seven-zone plan was originally contemplated by her but for various reasons it could not be activated.
Writing in the Asian Tribune of 17 March 2008, Wajid Shamsu’l Hassan, and Pakistan’s former High Commissioner in UK wrote, “When she (Benazir) appointed me High Commissioner to London, her brief of priorities was to develop trade with Britain, mobilize foreign investment and internationalize Kashmir as a human rights issue where UN resolutions were flouted.”
It has become a ritual with the OIC to pass a resolution in each of its sessions calling upon India to implement UN resolutions on Kashmir and put an end to “human rights violations.” To this Indian official circles react laconically that outside the conference hall most of the member countries of OIC contact their chanceries to assure them that Kashmir resolution notwithstanding there is no change in their policy towards India. That is how New Delhi has been trivializing OIC resolutions on Kashmir.
Showing its solidarity with Pakistan for the cause of “human rights in Kashmir”, the Saudi and Pakistani representatives working in tandem proposed that OIC appoint a special OIC envoy on Jammu and Kashmir. Following the meeting of its Contact Group on Kashmir at the United Nations headquarters in 2009, the OIC appointed Abdullah bin Abdul Rahman Al Bakr, a Saudi national, as a special OIC envoy on Jammu and Kashmir. Reacting sharply to this decision, Indian External Affairs Ministry spokesman Vishnu Prakash thundered on Oct 3, 2009,” It is regrettable that the OIC has commented on India’s internal affairs. We condemn and reject this. Inherent in OIC’s statements and actions on the issue of Jammu and Kashmir is a complete inability to understand India’s position. Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of India and it is our firm position that the OIC has no locus standi in matters concerning India’s internal affairs,”
Mirwaiz, who visited New York and Washington at the invitation of OIC, welcomed the appointment of the envoy. He addressed OIC’s contact group on Kashmir, met ministers of several Muslim countries and also US officials. On his return to Srinagar, Mirwaiz said: “Key headway is being made on the Kashmir issue for the first time, and along with Muslim nations, the US and China both are serious about solving it, which is the outcome of sacrifices of the Kashmiri people.” Notably, thereafter, the Chinese embassy in New Delhi began issuing visa on separate sheet to the Kashmiris intending to visit that country.
Speeches aside, Tajik analysts commenting on OIC foreign ministers meet expressed doubts that the OIC would be unable to meet the goals it set for itself. Many have dismissed the OIC as an Islamic debating society that has accomplished little, citing a lack of unified positions on key issues and no agencies transform policies into action.
“If the OIC could unify and present a single political position for all 57 members, it could be one of the strongest and most influential political blocs on the world stage”, said Tajik political scientist Abdullah Rahnama. “But the member-states of the OIC don’t have a unified position on any of their main issues. The OIC members’ positions on problems like the Near East conflict or recognition of Kosovar independence are formed under the influence of the leading world powers’ international positions. Russia’s position exerts influence on the position taken by the Central Asian countries. There is also no unified position on the anti-terrorist operation in Afghanistan”, he said.
Another Tajik political commentator Rustam Samiyev made a cogent point by saying that internal conflicts between member-states also influence the OIC’s positions. Ideologies to which individual states are wedded play a role too, he added.
(The writer is the former Director of the Centre for Central Asian Studies, Kashmir University).