Ejaz Hussain:Diplomatic déjà vu

Author:Ejaz Hussain Release date:2021-12-17 09:35:19Source:THE NEWS

41 years on, Pakistan is going to host another ‘extraordinary’ meeting of the OIC foreign ministers on Afghanistan.

Pakistan is going to host a session of the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) on December 19 on the Afghanistan crisis. China, United States, Russia, France and Great Britain, as well as the European Union, the World Bank and representatives of United Nations relief agencies have also been invited to the conference.

The OIC is the second largest organisation in the world. It has 57 member states from four continents. The organisation is projected to be the collective voice of the Muslim world. In terms of its objectives and functions, the OIC aims to safeguard the interests of the Muslim populations in various countries in terms of promoting international peace and encouraging harmony among peoples of the world regardless of their religious denominations. The latter is emphatically focused and pursued since the revision of its charter, name and logo in 2011. The OIC was established following a decision of the historical summit that took place in Rabat, Morocco, on September 25, 1969 in the wake of an arson attack on Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem. The following year, the first meeting of Islamic Conference of Foreign Minister (ICFM) was held in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, and decided to establish a permanent secretariat in the city headed by the organisation’s secretary general.

The first OIC Charter was adopted by the 3rd ICFM Session held in 1972. The Charter laid down the objectives and principles of the organisation and fundamental purposes to strengthen the solidarity and cooperation among the member countries. Over the last 52 years, the OIC membership has grown from its 30 founding members to 57 states. The organisation aspires to galvanise the Muslim ummah into a unified body and has attempted to represent the Muslims by espousing various causes close to the hearts of around 1.9 billion Muslims of the world. With respect to global outreach, the OIC has consultative and cooperative relations with the United Nations and major inter-governmental organisations to protect the vital interests of the Muslims and to work for the settlement of conflicts and disputes involving the member states.

The OIC member states face multiple challenges ranging from abject poverty to terrorism. To address these, various measures have been taken by the organisation. For example, the Third Extraordinary Session of the Islamic Summit, held in Makkah, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, in December 2005, laid down the blue print called the Ten-Year Programme of Action that concluded in 2015. A successor programme was then launched for the next decade (2016-2025). Importantly, the new programme OIC-2025 is grounded in the organisation’s charter. It thematically focuses on 18 priority areas with more than one hundred goals. The priority areas include issues of peace and security, Palestine, poverty alleviation, counterterrorism, investment and finance, food security, science and technology, climate change, culture and interfaith harmony, women empowerment, human rights and good governance.

After Afghanistan witnessed a regime change in mid-August this year, the political and economic situation has remained volatile. Pakistan is urging the major powers and regional countries to find a workable solution to the lingering crisis of political legitimacy that the Taliban face since their taking over of the country.

In terms of its organisational structure, the OIC’s core components include the Islamic Summit, the Council of Foreign Ministers (CFM), the General Secretariat besides the Al-Quds Committee and three permanent committees on science and technology; economy and trade; and information and culture. Moreover, there are some specialised bodies like the Islamic Development Bank and the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation.

Afghanistan and its key immediate neighbours, Pakistan and Iran, are among the founding members of the OIC. It held a special session on Afghanistan hosted by Pakistan in January 1980 in the wake of Soviet-US Cold War tussle that resulted into prolonged warfare which took a heavy toll on person and property. After 41 years, Pakistan is, once again, about to host an extraordinary meeting of the OIC foreign ministers. “Positively responding to Pakistan’s offer, the 47th Session of the Council of Foreign Ministers (CFM) of OIC in Niger has decided to host the 48th CFM Session in Islamabad [Pakistan] in 2021”. Moreover, Pakistan was included, at the said session, in the OIC’s six-member Executive Committee “for the next three years”. Besides, OIC’s Extraordinary/ Emergency Islamic Summits are taking place routinely, not situationally.

However, critical conditions in a member country are taken notice of. Usually such summits are held for collective brainstorming and decision-making. After Afghanistan witnessed a regime change in mid-August, the political and economic situation has been volatile. Pakistan has been urging the major powers and regional countries to find a workable solution to the lingering crisis of political legitimacy that the Taliban have faced since their takeover.

Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi has stated that the session will focus on highlighting the need for urgent assistance and mobilisation of resources to avert a humanitarian crisis and economic collapse in Afghanistan. “If we don’t pay timely attention, half of Afghanistan’s population or 22.8 million people can face food shortage and 3.2 million children may face malnutrition. It is the magnitude [of the problem] that we and the world should understand,” he said.

He said the international community was convinced in the wake of Pakistan’s diplomatic outreach that engagement with Afghanistan was in everyone’s interest. “In collaboration with China, a platform of six neighbouring countries was formed to discuss the situation and explore the opportunities after the revival of peace in Afghanistan.” He said that Pakistan was already assisting Afghans by dispatching medicines, 50,000 tonnes of wheat and other relief items. He added that India was also allowed to send wheat through Pakistan but had been coming up with excuses for not following up on its commitment.

“Considering the gravity of the situation, Pakistan has made an effort and moved ahead to host the international event, realising that, if not addressed timely, the situation will have dire consequences for Afghanistan and its neighbours as well as the whole region. Afghanistan can face economic collapse if its frozen assets are not released to cope with the burgeoning needs.”

“Pakistan also wants to invite a high-level delegation from Afghanistan to interact with the visiting dignitaries and apprise them of the latest situation on-ground. Senior officials from the respective countries will be meeting prior to the session. Officials of the OIC Secretariat will be arriving earlier around December 1 to oversee the preparations. The idea of holding the session on Afghanistan emerged during the meeting between Prime Minister Imran Khan and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Riyadh on the sidelines of the Green Summit in October. As Afghanistan is a founding OIC member, it was proposed that the ummah should make efforts to steer it out of the difficult situation.”

The foreign minister thanked Saudi Minister of Foreign Affairs Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud for taking a keen interest in achieving consensus on the issue. “Abandoning Afghanistan would have been a historic blunder. The world should learn from the past instead of repeating the mistake. If timely attention is not paid, a new crisis can emerge which will bring in instability. This instability will beget a mass exodus of refugees. We are already hosting three million Afghan refugees. It will be difficult to host more. Bordering countries like Iran and Tajikistan are similarly concerned,” he said.

“After the withdrawal of US and allied troops and the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan, India had launched a campaign to sanction Pakistan by blaming it for the Afghan situation. However, through its effective diplomatic efforts, Pakistan has thwarted the Indian designs,” he said.

India is also active on this front. Pakistan has therefore expedited its efforts in this respect and the OIC session is seen as an opportunity to not only share its ideas on Afghanistan’s political future but also to listen to other stakeholders such as Iran, Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Besides these Muslims governments, representatives from key countries from the Global North as well as major international organisations such as the UNO are likely to attend. This session can indeed be an extraordinary event and help build confidence among key stakeholders on how to deal with the Taliban controlled country. An early formal recognition of the Taliban rule may not be the result but one can hope for some lessening of mutual misgivings.