In 2016, the UNHCR reported that over 31 million Muslims from seven Islamic countries – 12 million from Syria, 4.7 million from Afghanistan, 4.2 million from Iraq, 2.9 million from Sudan, 2.6 million from Somalia, 2.5 million from Nigeria and 2.1 million from Yemen – had been forcibly displaced due to conflicts or violence in these countries.
Earlier, the US National Counter-Terrorism Center had stated that: “Muslims suffered between 82 [percent] and 97 [percent] of terrorism-related fatalities over the past five years”.
In India, 180 million Muslims are effectively marginalised, regularly persecuted and frequently killed for eating beef. No one bothered to talk about these hapless Muslims at the Arab-Islamic-US summit in Riyadh in May. Nor did anyone remember the Palestinians, the ongoing civil wars in Iraq and Syria, the devastation in Yemen and Afghanistan or the worst-ever human rights abuses in Indian-Occupied Kashmir (IoK).
Soon after this summit, Saudi Arabia and Iran drew out their daggers as cracks appeared in the GCC due to the Qatari issue. Who can rescue the Muslims from this predicament? The UN, the Arab League, the GCC and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) have failed to do so. However, the onus is largely on the 57-member OIC, which is the second largest cluster of countries after the UN and has a combined GDP of $20 trillion.
The OIC is meant to be the saviour and the voice of the 1.7 billion Muslims. It is mandated to enhance unity among them. The five salient objectives of the OIC are: restoring the independence of member states that are under occupation; empowering the Palestinians to establish their sovereign state; safeguarding the rights of Muslim minorities in non-member states; promoting a unified position for Muslims at international forums; collaborating to combat terrorism; and cooperation in humanitarian emergencies and natural disasters.
These are, indeed, lofty goals. However, the OIC seems rudderless and helpless to achieve them. For instance, the OIC has merely declared that on the Qatari crisis it is ‘following’ the efforts of Kuwait to ensure the peaceful resolution of the matter. The main beneficiaries of this discordant and acrimonious milieu in the Middle East are clearly Israel and the many state-sponsored and private terrorist organisations in the region.
The UN and the OIC have passed the largest number of resolutions on the Palestinian and Kashmir issues that have been rejected with impunity by Israel and India, respectively. These unresolved matters are a cause of constant suffering for the people of Asia and the Middle East. However, owing to the nuclearisation of the Subcontinent, the Kashmir flashpoint has become more alarming.
During the 1994 OIC Conference in Tehran, a Contact Group on Kashmir (CGK) was created. This group has, in the past, rightly rejected any linkage between terrorism and the right of Muslims to self-determination and self-defence against foreign occupation.
During such meetings, statements are also made by the representatives of the Kashmiri people. In June 2002, the CGK asked the UN to sensitise all its member states about the peaceful resolution of the Kashmir dispute, which has so often led to wars between Pakistan and India. The UN circulated this concern as a document of the UNGA to avert another war in South Asia. As a result, the group seemed content with the mere reconfirmation of its stance and the opposition to human rights violations in IoK.
In 2016, the CGK – comprising Pakistan, Azerbaijan, Niger and Turkey – asked the OIC’s Independent Permanent Human Rights Commission (IPHRC) to monitor human rights in IoK and also urged the UN OCHA to urgently deliver relief to the affected population. When the Indian government opposed these measures, the IPHRC strangely decided to go to Azad Jammu and Kashmir to do the needful. To the utter disappointment of 19 million Kashmiris, any hopes of the OIC’s support – which may translate into practical and effective processes to resolve this matter – have not materialised.
The OIC needs to make concerted and collective efforts for the early settlement of this and a plethora of other grave issues that have plagued the Muslim world. For this, they don’t need to hold summits with the West where they are lectured about identifying ‘enemies’ and told how to tackle them. Instead, the OIC’s heads of government must put their heads together during a week-long session to arrive at bold and substantive verdicts on how to face the multiple challenges to the survival of their people in accordance with the agreed objectives.
Keeping the interests of the group above their own should be the hallmark of this assembly. Its priorities must also include restructuring the OIC Secretariat in Jeddah to make it more effective, responsive and accountable. Regional Muslim blocs – like the Arab League, the GCC and the ECO – must be directed to work in congruence with the OIC and in harmony with each other. Where a consensus-based solution cannot be found on contentious issues, the OIC must follow the majority decision on key issues.
Turkey, Pakistan and Iran are already hosting the bulk of the displaced Muslim population. Other affluent Muslim countries must share this burden under a formula worked out by the OIC in coordination with the UNHCR. Pakistan has always supported the OIC’s causes – often at the expensive of its own interests.This backing must now be made conditional to the practical support of the oppressed Kashmiris and the country’s efforts and stance in bringing peace to Afghanistan.
The IMAFT, headed by Gen (r) Raheel, ought to function under the OIC’s auspices, with a mandate that flows from its charter and resembles Nato’s mandate. It is incumbent upon the leaders of the powerful Gulf countries and other influential states – such as Indonesia, Malaysia, Turkey, Pakistan and Iran – to break the inertia, take fresh initiatives and vehemently pursue these matters at the OIC and, concomitantly, at the UN. Will the OIC shun its seclusion, be more assertive and play a momentous role in the global arena and promise a better future for all Muslims?
The writer is the former president of the NDU.