Talk shop! Prattle Box! These are some of the phrases used by critics against the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC). These phrases are lavishly used by writers, journalists and scribes in Muslim countries against the OIC for not meeting expectations of the Muslim community in general and the intelligentsia in particular. Muslim intelligentsia has been looking for the UN role for this organization in arbitrating the disputes that have been causing concern to the Muslim world. I may not look into the possibility of this organization working as keel for steering global relations; though it has the strength of changing the dynamics of international relations, but I will be looking into the role it has been playing in Kashmir.
The OIC is now forty years old. The decision for creating the organization was made at the historic summit in Rabat, Kingdom of Morocco on 25 September 1969. The reason for establishing the OIC was ‘criminal arson’ on Al- Aqsa Mosque in Occupied Jerusalem. The organization has a membership of 57 states spread over four continents. It is the second largest inter-governmental organization after the United Nations. The creation of the OIC was a dream of King Faisal of Saudi Arabia and visionary Pakistani leader Zulfikar Ali Bhutto to bring under one banner Muslims of the world not only to ‘take on challenges of Zionism and imperialism but to see the Muslim world emerge as one of the principal players in global politics.’ Many contemporary political analysts have seen cause of assassination of King Faisal in the birth of OIC. Some relate the proactive role played by Bhutto in shaping the OIC as cause of his ‘murder on trial.’ It was the idea of the ‘Muslim Block to counter the Western powers’ piloted by Bhutto in the second OIC summit held in Lahore in 1974 that made the West wary about the man whose brilliance was endorsed by Henry Kissinger. Kissinger described Bhutto in these words, "I found him brilliant, charming, of global stature in his perceptions …he did not suffer fools gladly. Since he had many to contend with, this provided him with more than his ordinary share of enemies.”
Despite suffering international conspiracies, the OIC has undoubtedly emerged as an important organization in the world. Notwithstanding it being an organization representing one third of the world population, it has not been effective in furthering the cause of the Muslim world or resolving the important disputes concerning the Muslim world. Some experts on global Muslim affairs see the failure of the OIC as ‘symbolically collective failure of the whole Muslim community’ in the world. Some view the cause of failure of this organization in ‘the structure of the organization, lack of its ‘physical and economic structure, which could serve as an impetus for accelerated and productive action.’ The OIC has failed to grow as an all embracing organization that could effectively channel the resources of the Muslim countries for scientific and technological advancement, one of the prime reasons for the economic backwardness and political suppression of the Muslim countries. Some scholars view the lack of real democracy in many Muslim countries as one of the major reasons holding up growth and progress of the organization. Others see vested interests of some despotic kings and sheikhs as hindering the organization in becoming instrumental in fairly resolving the disputes confronting Muslims.
The OIC may have failed on many counts but it has succeeded in keeping the debate on the problems such as that of Palestine, Afghanistan, Somalia, Iraq and Kashmir “weighing heavy on the Muslim world vibrant and alive.” Kashmir’s situation that was taken to the United Nations on 1 January 1948 dominated the debates of the Security Council for two and half-decades. It virtually lost this forum in 1971 after India and Pakistan signed an agreement and decided to resolve the dispute bilaterally. After 1971, Kashmir has rarely been mentioned on the floors of the Security Council, except in extraordinary situations like India and Pakistan carrying out tests of their nuclear devices and the international community voicing concern about Kashmir becoming a nuclear flashpoint between the new entrants to the nuclear club. It has also been mentioned during situations like the Kargil war when the international community asked India and Pakistan to find an amicable settlement of the dispute. By and large, it has been the human rights violations in Jammu and Kashmir that have found an echo in many international humanitarian organizations or the European Union. However, there have not been any marathon sessions in any international forums for the resolution of the problem after 1971.
In fact, it has been only in the OIC summit meetings where the resolution of Kashmir has been debated and discussed along with other problems confronting the Muslim world. True, it has been in the wake of the 1990 mass upsurge in Kashmir that the United States and European countries renewed their interest in Kashmir and reiterated their stand about it being a dispute yet to be resolved. In October 1993 US Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia, Robin Raphel, in a briefing to correspondents in Washington reiterated the US stand on Kashmir and said: ”We view Kashmir as a disputed territory and that means that we do not recognize that instrument of accession as meaning that Kashmir is forevermore an integral part of India."
Notwithstanding New Delhi reacting very strongly to the statement, the statement was repeated subsequently on several occasions with US administration officials reiterating that it considers the entire State as disputed territory.
However, Kashmir’s problem continued to be a cause of concern at most of the OIC summits. In 1994 a delegation of the APHC headed by Mirwaiz Umar Farooq was invited to the Seventh Islamic Conference in Casablanca. The organization accorded observers status to APHC in 1996. There has been hardly any summit meeting of the OIC where the Kashmir Problem has not been equated with other problems confronting the Muslim Conference. In its Oct 2008 summit in Kazakhstan, the OIC adopted a resolution supporting the right to self-determination for people of Jammu and Kashmir. It also endorsed the 1948 UN resolution mandating a plebiscite in the entire state of Jammu and Kashmir as it stood on 14 August 1947. The OIC has been the first international forum where Kashmir leaders have been invited as an independent entity to talk about the Kashmir problem that has bedeviled India and Pakistan relations.
Since 23 May 2009, a three day ‘brain storming session of 36th session of the Council of Foreign Ministers (CFM) of the OIC member countries is being held in Damascus, Syria. Besides the APHC some Kashmir Diaspora organization like Kashmir American Council, Washington and J&K Justice Foundation, London have been invited to the conference. Kashmir Diaspora leaders Dr. G.N.Fai of KAC and Prof. Shawl of Justice Foundation are attending the conference.
The conference has assumed added significance for it being held about a week before U.S. President Barak Obama is to address the Muslim world from Egypt scheduled for 2 July 2009. There can be no denying the US president Barak Obama has been undoing many anti-Muslim Bush policies in the interest of his country and has embarked on the path of reconciliation towards Muslims. The OIC leadership has an important role to play in this transition for involving the United States in finding a solution to all the problems confronting the Muslim world. The Damascus conference has been deliberating upon “the future of the relations between the Muslim world and the United States but it could play a role in enabling the U.S. President to be more focused towards the real problems that have worked as incubators for spawning extremism.”
In his above 4000 word statement the Secretary General of OIC, Professor Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, has endeavored to highlight the unresolved issues and how the organization was discussing major unresolved issues like Palestine, Iraq, Kashmir, Afghanistan and Somalia. Mentioning Kashmir he said in his statement, “Regarding the issue of Jammu and Kashmir, the tense situation there is still at a standstill due to the failure to implement the relevant UN Security Council resolutions. My special envoy to Jammu and Kashmir has paid a visit to both Islamabad and Muzzafarabad to discuss developments in this connection.”
The OIC support for Kashmir so far been symbolic and most of Kashmir leaders have been expecting the organization to go beyond symbolic support and want it playing the role of the UN in the resolution of Kashmir. Are they expecting too much from this organization?