Nearly 60 percent of the world conflicts are in Muslims countries, whether through direct confrontation or as a playground for proxy warfare. Examples range from Syria, Yemen and Iraq in the Middle East to Nigeria and Somalia in Africa to Kashmir in South Asia. Recently, Prime Minister Imran Khan declined to attend the Kuala Lumpur summit- the agenda of which is to set up a parallel platform to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to listen and act upon solving Muslim grievances. This brings into question the practicability of the OIC, which celebrated its fifth anniversary this year.
Following decades of deliberation by Muslim scholars and statesmen, the OIC was founded by a charter in 1969. Now comprising of fifty-seven nations spread over four continents, the fifty-year-old organisation is the second largest international body after the UN, and is aimed at protecting Muslim interests worldwide.
In the current setting of today’s world, states have sought international forums through which they can defend and protect their interests. In doing so, they have paved the way for the emergence of multinational organizations of a regional nature having different goals and whose geographic, political and economic diversity speaks for themselves. However, none has managed to bring together all the Islamic States of the world. The only one that has taken Islam as the cohering element, regardless of any geographic and cultural characteristics, is the OIC.
In the half century of its existence, the organisation has connected with international apparatuses (including every specialized UN agency), governments, and civil society organizations (CSOs) to address issues of concern to Muslims worldwide. The OIC’s activities and assistance now include long-term development projects as well, including health, education, and agriculture. The OIC’s existence is based on the idea that there is a commonality among its members that is stronger than any difference: Islam.
The OIC has long played an important role in mediation and conflict resolution, in particular taking action in countries that are members of the OIC or intervening when a Muslim community is part of a conflict. The OIC’s promise in the field of conflict mediation in the Muslim world stems largely from its ‘cultural competence’ and religious character. This proved an advantage in Somalia, where assistance from an Islamic organisation was more acceptable to the Shabab Movement, allowing the OIC to open the way to other international donors. Iraq provides another success story where the OIC’s intervention in the sectarian violence following the bombing of the two holy shrines in the city of Samara in 2006 was notably successful in bringing together Sunni and Shia leaders and thus contributing to social peace.
Till now, the OIC has been long on idiom but short on action. Since its inauguration, the OIC summits have produced more than 3200 resolutions ranging from the boycott of Israel to raising the level of economic, cultural and political cooperation among the member countries. However, very few substantive resolutions have ever been implemented. Critics have highlighted the mistrust among the member states, lack of cohesion and unity, antagonistic foreign policies influenced largely by the Western world and territorial disputes as some of the red flags for the OIC’s lack of progress.
At a time when the Muslim world is divided and in need of dire support, the OIC should be standing as a beacon of hope for the Muslim world, where they can raise their concerns and have no fear of being derided and ridiculed. On the contrary, the organisation is slowly heading towards becoming an open bashing ground within OIC member states. Case in point being the 14th OIC Summit in 2019, where under the pretext of regional security issues, member states openly villfied Iran .
Pakistan continues to enjoy a respected status within the organisation – it is the only member with nuclear status and has one of the largest standing armies in the world. Islamabad has always been vocal on all OIC forums. Since the Kashmir issue captures the popular imagination of Muslim leaders globally, Pakistan has used this dynamic to pursue the Kashmir cause at this rostrum. Its success can be seen in that one of the sharpest reactions to New Delhi’s 2019 decision to revoke the special status of Jammu & Kashmir engendered from the OIC which reaffirmed the internationally recognized status of the Kashmir dispute.
The momentous changes that have swept across the Muslim world over the past decade alone, demand that the OIC emerge as a torch bearer for defending the dignity and rights of Muslims. It is time that the governments of OIC member states should realize that they have responsibilities towards each other and that they have many challenges in common. Needless to say, OIC’s efforts must not be limited to member states alone, but need to follow the basic principle that every Muslim is equally important. Keeping in view the rising Islamophobia as well as the rise of extremist ideologies such as Hindutva, the OIC needs to play a more proactive role to protect the rights of Muslim minorities face around the world. By deepening security cooperation, reforming its processes through capacity building and other means, as well as revising its mediation approach, the OIC will become better able to contribute to the resolution of seemingly intractable conflicts, especially in places where the Muslim community is involved.
The writer is currently a Research Fellow at the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad. She is a LUMS and Warwick alumnus.