Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and its relations with India

The 48th session of the Council of Foreign Ministers of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) opened in Islamabad on March 22, 2022. The OIC, which was known as the Organisation of the Islamic Conference until 2011, is the second-largest inter-governmental organization in the world after the United Nations, with a membership of 57 countries spread across four continents.

What is Organisation of Islamic Cooperation?

The OIC describes itself as “the collective voice of the Muslim world”, and its 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 Organisation of the Islamic Conference was established by the First Islamic Summit Conference held in Rabat, Morocco, in September 1969, to marshal the Islamic world after an act of arson at the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem that year. The incident had plunged the Middle East into its worst crisis after the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

In 1970 the first meeting of the Islamic Conference of Foreign Ministers (ICFM) was held in Jeddah, which decided to establish a permanent secretariat in that city, headed by the secretary-general of the organization. The current secretary-general of the OIC is the Chadian diplomat and politician Hissein Brahim Taha, who took over from the Saudi Arabian Dr. Yousef Ahmed Al-Othaimeen in November 2020.

The OIC has reserved its membership for Muslim-majority countries. The Central African Republic, Russia, Thailand, Bosnia & Herzegovina, and the unrecognized Turkish Cypriot “state” have Observer status.

OIC’s relations with India

As the 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.

Thirty-seven years later, in 2006, with post-reforms India has come to occupy an important position in the world, Saudi Arabia invited New Delhi to join as an Observer. But India stayed away because of a multiplicity of reasons, not least because as a secular country, it did not want to join an organization that was founded on the religious identity of nations.

Again, at the 45th session of the Foreign Ministers’ Summit in May 2018, Bangladesh, the host country, suggested that India, where more than 10% of the world’s Muslims live, should be given Observer status. But Pakistan opposed the proposal. While the OIC is mainly controlled by Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, as the only Islamic country with nuclear weapons, has had a powerful say in the organization from the beginning.

In 2019, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Foreign Minister of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), invited then Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj to address the Inaugural Plenary of the 46th Session of the OIC Council of Foreign Ministers in Abu Dhabi as the “Guest of Honour”.

OIC’s position on Kashmir

The OIC has been generally supportive of Pakistan’s stand on Kashmir and has issued statements criticizing the alleged Indian “atrocities” in the state. However, New Delhi has long been used to combating these statements and has consistently and forcefully put forward its position.

Importantly, Pakistan’s position in the OIC aside, New Delhi is hardly friendless in the organization. India has excellent relations individually with almost all member nations — and this is a reason why it can mostly afford to not take the statements issued by the group as a whole seriously.