The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) symbolises an attempt by Muslim states to realise the Islamic premise that Muslims form a distinct community known as Ummah (in the Quran, Ummah is referred to as a religious community). The organisation was set up in Rabat, Morocco, on 25 September 1969 in reaction to an arson attack on Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem on 21 August 1969. In 1972 the charter was adopted but it was the 1981 Makkah Declaration that solidified the organisation as its member states showed real interest to strengthen economic and commercial cooperation. The OIC has 57 members, mostly Muslim-majority states, but it also has non-Muslim majority states, for example, Uganda, Mozambique and Surinam. Hitherto, the OIC has a disappointing record as the ‘pan-Islamic’ organisation. It is stricken by infighting and internal power-struggles, especially among the member states from Middle East and North Africa region. The organisation has been a failure in articulating clear and consistent policies regarding the well-being of Muslims around the world, which it had promised in its charter. Many influential member states often use the organisation to advance their own foreign policy.
Relations between India and OIC started to go sour in June 2019 when the OIC appointed a “special envoy” on Jammu and Kashmir and subsequently issued several strongly worded statements on the government’s decision to amend Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, on the Supreme Court verdict on the Ayodhya dispute, and on the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019. The recent such act of the OIC is its Niamey Declaration.
What is the Niamey Declaration?
The 47th session of the Council of Foreign Ministers (CFM) of the OIC held on 27-29 November 2020 at Niamey in Niger made a reference to India over its policies on Jammu and Kashmir. In this session of the CFM it was emphasised that the question of Kashmir and its status was of utmost importance for the Ummah. According to details of the Niamey meeting released by Pakistan’s Foreign Office, known as the Niamey Declaration, the CFM reaffirmed its strong support to Pakistan for the Kashmir cause. As per the report presented by Pakistani media, the OIC rejected the ‘illegal actions’ taken by India on 5 August 2019 to change the internationally recognised disputed status of Jammu and Kashmir and demanded that India rescind its actions. Dawn reported that the OIC foreign ministers in the Niamey Declaration had asked India to adhere to its international human rights obligations and allow the OIC Fact-Finding Mission to visit Kashmir. The OIC also asked the international community to review its engagements with India as it was allegedly violating and disregarding international law, international humanitarian law, and international resolutions.
India’s Ministry of External Affairs firmly rejected the OIC’s Niamey Declaration in a counter statement, calling it factually incorrect, gratuitous, and unwarranted. India advised the OIC to refrain from making such remarks in the future and urged it to not allow itself to be used by Pakistan, which it said has an abominable record on religious tolerance, radicalism, and persecution of minorities.
OIC’s political will for Kashmir and implications for India
Pakistan is calling the Niamey Declaration its diplomatic victory. But reprimanding the OIC’s declaration against India is a rather affordable task for India because it would not have any political and economic repercussion vis-à-vis India’s ‘Look West Policy’. The OIC has political will but it never manifests into political action, because the members are not steady on their collective resolutions and do not let the OIC’s discussions affect their foreign policies. Many OIC countries including Pakistan avoid speaking against mistreatment of Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang because this will affect bilateral relations with China. The OIC speaks for self-determination of Palestinians but its important members in Arab countries engage with Israel. It is clear that the OIC is secondary to its member states and they will never give up their bilateral relations to satisfy the collective political will, especially one which goes against an influential member’s self-interest. The self-interest of its influential members is OIC’s weakness that makes it an impotent assembly of no real consequence.
The improvement in India’s ties with the Gulf countries is often cited as a major success of Prime Minister Narendra Modi that overshadows Pakistan’s continuous efforts to raise Kashmir issue in the Muslim world. Indian administration has forged unprecedented defence and trade partnerships with Gulf countries in the past few years. India continues to build strong diplomatic relations with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates. These states are vital members of the OIC and the growing relations with Middle East powers signify also the diplomatic failure of Pakistan to internationalise Kashmir.
The writer is a student of Political Science, IGNOU. [email protected]