New Delhi: On 29 January 1980, when most visiting delegates at Islamic Foreign Ministers conference in Islamabad had left and others were sleepy and inattentive, then Pakistani chief of army staff General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq with the help of trusted aides quietly inserted ‘Kashmir’ in the draft declaration.
Pakistan’s then foreign minister and conference president Agha Shahi simply asked the delegates if the draft was approved and mild applause was taken by all as unanimous acceptance. Thereafter Indian diplomats posted in Islamabad rushed to envoys and questioned them about accepting such declaration. They claimed complete ignorance about ‘Kashmir reference’. Clearly, Pakistan ticked them and of course, was able to exploit the conference for its main purpose.
Indian diplomats debated in the 80s that Pakistan was able to raise ‘Kashmir’ issue at Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) platform due to successful infiltration of Pakistani officials in the secretariat. A section believed that Pakistani diplomats were by far the most skilled in handling conferences as compared to other Muslim countries and used Islamic conferences to their advantage. No doubt, OIC, formerly called as ‘Organisation of the Islamic Conference’ has been used by Pakistan in the past against India. This basically started with Karachi International Islamic Conference held in November 1949 and attended by 18 countries.
Subsequently, in 1951 Motamer-e-Alam-i-Islam held its session in Karachi that was attended by various countries but Pakistan missed the boat soon thereafter. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto brought Pakistan’s position back in the forum and he successfully built up a military machine financed by Arab money. Zia, initially treated as persona non-grata by almost all the major countries, adopted the policy of Islamisation at home drew them closer. He was also able to successfully present Pakistan to the Islamic world as a victim of Soviet aggression after their intervention in Afghanistan. Since then Pakistan did not miss any opportunity to exploit its Islamic link in the political field.
Naturally, the invite to India to attend foreign ministers meeting of the OIC on 1 March as ‘guest of honour’ would bring unease to the Pakistani establishment. Although India’s participation is limited to the inaugural session, the invitation is seen as a huge diplomatic victory and sign of growing ties with the Islamic world, particularly Saudi Arabia and UAE.
The invite, amid international pressure on Pakistan to rein in terror groups operating on its soil, could also become a huge opportunity for India to use the forum of 57 member states to expose Pakistan’s foreign policy manoeuvres aimed at raking up anti-India issues while playing Islamic card to their advantage. Despite the lack of interest among the other member countries, Pakistan has been surreptitiously using the platform to include a reference to Kashmir in the communiques. However, the Pulwama terror attack and strong condemnation by the UN Security Council is likely to trigger a change in OIC stand.
Since 1969 Rabat fiasco where India was disinvited due to Pakistan’s hectic lobbying with other countries, the government has been patiently working to strengthen bilateral relations with Islamic countries. India was treated shabbily at Rabat and president Habib Bourguiba of Tunisia had told an Indian diplomat that Muslims in India though having a large population do not wield real political power in the country. Amid the discussion in 80s and 90s on whether India should lobby with other member states to participate in OIC forum, the government had decided to set up an Islamic Cell under the Ministry of External Affairs to carry out regular and intensive studies of religo-political movements in the Islamic world and keep track of Islamic conferences within and outside the Arab world.
At least three primary factors have always triggered the debate for India's deep ties with OIC -- the presence of Pakistan in the forum and its adverse effect on India, secondly the existence of a large majority of Muslims in the population of India and finally the strengthening of India’s relations with the Muslim world. It is important to mention a confidential note of 1981 where Indian diplomats argued that entry into OIC will help India marginally to counter Pakistani moves, but at the same time our constant confrontation with neighboring country will expose us to the charge of having a phobia against Pakistan. It further said: “On important questions such as Kashmir and in eventuality of an Indo-Pakistan war, there will certainly be pressure on us in the OIC for a compromise settlement, and attempts at mediating the issue will be made by OIC. It will go against our basic approach to this problem.”
It had further suggested that entry in the OIC does not appear to be of any particular advantage for India and the focus should be on intense bilateral relations with OIC member states, which seems to promise a brighter future for India’s relations with Muslim states than even getting the observer status of OIC. Pakistan's attempt to forge deep cooperation and get more economic assistance from the Muslim countries has been restricted and its stock is not as high in the forum. The recent terror attack in Iran and suspected Pakistani link is also showing severe strain in Pakiatani-Iranian relation.
On the contrary, India’s deepening ties with Islamic world could act as a bulwark to prevent Pakistan from using the secretariat and OIC forum for its own propaganda.
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Updated Date: Feb 25, 2019 13:41:30 IST