Statements issued by the 57-member Organisation of Islamic Cooperation hide huge geographical, linguistic, national and sectarian differences within the organisation. This OIC should not be seen as monolithic as regional variables and national considerations trump collective statements.

THE 57-member Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) has often attracted attention for its outspoken stance on various peace and security-related issues. In the same vein, there are reported plans to discuss Jammu and Kashmir, as one of the items on the agenda, at the 47th regular session of Council of Foreign Ministers to be held in Niger in April this year.

Of the nearly 1.9 billion Muslim population, nearly 44 per cent lives in South Asia and South-East Asia, a region that has huge cultural, ethnic, religious and civilisational diversity. In this region, the Muslim community lives both as majority and as minority. The scope of the OIC multilateral diplomacy is hindered by its unidimensional understanding of the real or perceived concerns of the Muslim communities, particularly in mixed and pluralistic societies. In real practice, the various statements issued by the OIC hide huge geographical, linguistic, national and sectarian differences within the organisation and this is reflected on many issues.

In this context, varied approaches to the Rohingya crisis by the OIC member-states, depending on their contextual understanding of the issues and national considerations, is an example. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) has traditionally led the efforts with respect to Rohingya advocacy. It de facto heads Rohingya-centric ambassadorial contact group on Myanmar at the United Nations Headquarters in New York. For several years, the contact group is mandated to enhance the awareness of the concerns of the Rohingya community at the UNHQ and this includes frequent meetings with various interlocutors, including the Secretary-General.

On behalf of the OIC, the KSA is the penholder of the annual General Assembly (GA) resolution on the situation of human rights in Myanmar that has re-established the Secretary-General’s Good Offices on Myanmar in 2018. Prior to 2016, the European Union (EU) was the pen holder of the annual General Assembly resolutions on Myanmar for nearly two decades. The European Union decided not to table a resolution in 2016 on account of positive steps taken by Myanmar towards democratisation and national reconciliation. The post-August 2017 Rohingya crisis that led to mass displacement of the community from Myanmar to Bangladesh led to revival of the General Assembly resolution, though this time around, the annual resolution was primarily worded around the Rohingya issue.

With respect to the Rohingya issue, the KSA is a direct stakeholder as it hosts nearly half a million community members. The community members came to the KSA at various intervals, primarily as immigrant workers. In the past few years, along with the KSA, Turkey has led advocacy efforts related to the Rohingya community and organised several events on the Rohingya crisis, both outside and inside Turkey. The First Lady of Turkey, Emine Erdogan, turned the spotlight on the plight of the Rohingya community when she visited Myanmar in 2012 after the breaking out of the communal riots in Rakhine that led to mass internal displacement of about 1,20,000 Rohingya in central Rakhine.

In a slightly varied approach, Indonesia, the largest Muslim country with nearly 225 million Muslims, is known for its calibrated and pragmatic diplomacy with respect to its South- East Asian neighbour, Myanmar. Like the previous Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa, the present incumbent, Retno Marsudi, is known for her deft diplomatic skills. This does not mean inaction. In fact, after the August 2017 Rohingya crisis, Marsudi shuttled between Myanmar and Bangladesh as the refugee flow swelled from the former to the latter in 2017. Without diluting its stance on the protection of Rohingya, Indonesia has often emphasised the need to factor in the multi-religious and multi-ethnic character of Myanmar, including Rakhine state, in proposing realistic and long-term solutions to the Rohingya crisis. Indonesia is presently an elected member of the Security Council till December 31 this year and its interventions reflect a continuity to its broad approach. In the past, the OIC members like the Islamic Republic of Iran and Syrian Arab Republic have gone to the extent of not backing the OIC-supported General Assembly resolution on Myanmar. They are against any country-specific resolution.

Coming to multi-ethnic and multi-religious Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir, the OIC has been making statements and extending invitations to various separatist leaders. However, even on J&K, historically, the national interests of each one of the present OIC member-states have determined their stance. For instance, in 1965, Indonesia supported India at the Security Council on J&K related discussions, mainly on account of the fact that its arch-rival Malaysia had decided to oppose India. In March 1994, the Islamic Republic of Iran was one of the countries that bailed out India when the Islamic Republic of Pakistan moved a resolution at the UN Human Rights Council at Geneva for sending a fact-finding mission to Jammu and Kashmir. Even in the present context, post-Article 370 de-operationalisation, the KSA has tried to walk a tightrope between India and Pakistan. On the other hand, Turkey and Malaysia have taken a critical stand vis-à-vis the various developments related to J&K in the past six months.

Even within the Gulf, the KSA, the traditional leader of the OIC and with second largest oil reserves in the world, has been challenged by its regional neighbour, Qatar, which is endowed with huge reserves of natural gas. Qatar has often employed various instruments of its soft power to cut to size the KSA’s influence in the region. It has also competed with the KSA in terms of multilateral financial commitments. With this background, the OIC should not be seen as monolithic as regional variables and national considerations trump the collective OIC statements of intent issued from time to time.