Foreign minister Sushma Swaraj (Mint)
Foreign minister Sushma Swaraj (Mint)

India invited as 'guest of honour' to OIC meet, Sushma Swaraj to attend

  • The OIC meet will be held in Abu Dhabi on 1-2 March
  • The OIC is a 57-member grouping of Muslim majority nations

New Delhi: In a major diplomatic victory for India and a setback for Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates has invited foreign minister Sushma Swaraj to attend the foreign ministers’ meet of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) States, set to take place in Abu Dhabi on 1-2 March — the first such invite in five decades. 

Swaraj will be the “guest of honour" at the inaugural plenary 46th meeting of OIC foreign ministers. The move is seen as a major blow to Pakistan that has consistently opposed India’s entry into the grouping despite having the third-largest Muslim population in the world.

The OIC is a 57-member grouping of Muslim majority nations. The development comes amid heightened tensions between India and Pakistan after a suicide attacker from Pakistan-based Jaish e Mohammed terrorist group blew up a bus carrying Indian paramilitary troops in Kashmir on 14 February. The attack claimed 42 lives.

According to Talmiz Ahmed, a former Indian ambassador to Saudi Arabia, “this is a historic victory for India, a major triumph for Indian diplomacy and a major setback for Pakistan. The OIC used to be a platform for Pakistan to abuse India. This (invitation) is the result of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s outreach to both the UAE and Saudi Arabia."

“ It also corrects a historical wrong done to India" by its eviction from the first OIC conference in 1969, Ahmed added. 

An Indian foreign ministry statement on Saturday said Swaraj had been invited by Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, foreign minister of the UAE, to address the plenary. Welcoming the move, the statement said: “We see this invitation as the desire of the enlightened leadership of the UAE to go beyond our rapidly growing close bilateral ties and forge a true multifaceted partnership at the multilateral and international level."

“We see this invitation as a milestone in our comprehensive strategic partnership with the UAE. We also see this invitation as a welcome recognition of the presence of 185 million Muslims in India and of their contribution to its pluralistic ethos, and of India’s contribution to the Islamic world," the statement said.

“India is, therefore, happy to accept the invitation to attend the Inaugural Plenary of the OIC meeting and we thank the leadership of the UAE for their invitation," it added.

In its statement, the UAE government said the theme of the 46th ministerial meet was “50 years of Islamic cooperation: The road map for prosperity and development," coinciding with the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the organisation.

“Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, minister of foreign affairs and international Cooperation, will open the meeting next Friday in the presence of His Excellency the secretary-general of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Dr. Yousef Al-Othaimeen, with the participation of 56 member states and five observer states, as well as the friendly Republic of India with all its international political weight and diverse cultural heritage, and an important Islamic component, as a guest of honor," the statement added.

It was Qatar that first proposed observer status for India at the OIC foreign ministers’ meet in 2002 in recognition of India’s significant Muslim population, but Pakistan had consistently blocked the move. Pakistan has been able to prevail so far given its close ties with major powers within the OIC grouping such as Saudi Arabia and Turkey.

India had been invited to the first OIC meet in Rabat in 1969, at the instance of the then Saudi monarch, King Faisal, and heads of some key Muslim countries. According to news reports, a delegation led by former president Fakruddin Ali Ahmed, on its way to Rabat, was requested to return from Rome, after the then Pakistan president, Yahya Khan, threatened to walk out of the inaugural OIC meet if the Indian delegation was invited. The Indian delegation attending the conference, headed by its then ambassador to Morocco Gurbachan Singh, was evicted from the conference. 

On the eve of a visit to India in 2006, the then Saudi monarch, King Abdullah had acknowledged that India should be given an observer status in the OIC and also gone on to suggest that it would be “beneficial" if Pakistan proposed India’s candidature. Pakistan on its part had objected stating that any country wishing to get observer status should not be involved in any dispute with an OIC member state — the reference being to the India-Pakistan dispute over Kashmir.

India has been consistently criticised by the OIC for its alleged human rights violations in Kashmir, often seen at the behest of Pakistan.

With India moving to recraft and consolidate its ties with major Muslim countries in recent years, countries such as the UAE and Turkey besides Saudi Arabia have responded to New Delhi’s overtures.

Last year, Turkey joined hands with Bangladesh to seek reforms of the 57-nation grouping including a suggestion to include India.

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