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International Relations

The symbolism couldn’t have been starker. An empty chair for founder member Pakistan as external affairs minister, Sushma Swaraj, representing India as a guest of honour at the meeting of foreign ministers of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in Abu Dhabi, spoke of New Delhi’s deepening engagement with states in the 56-member grouping. Pakistan stayed away from the meeting on Friday over the invitation extended to India at a time of heightened tensions between the two sides. India used the forum to send out a message on dismantling terrorism infrastructure in states that shelter terrorists, and Ms Swaraj also spoke about India’s long-standing relations with many OIC members and the recent boost in economic and security ties with West Asian nations.

Pakistan hit back a day later with resolutions that spoke of atrocities and “Indian terrorism” in Kashmir, with language similar to that of past OIC resolutions. The UAE’s foreign minister sought to balance this with talk of India’s historic presence at the meet and the desire for stronger ties.

Almost 50 years ago, India had, with Saudi Arabia’s blessings, received an invitation to the Morocco meeting that laid the foundations of the OIC. However, the manoeuvring of Pakistan’s then president Yahya Khan put paid to India’s chances of becoming a member of the grouping. Since then, Pakistan has regularly used the OIC to snipe at India, usually on the issue of Kashmir, something that caused considerable heartburn in South Block. However, India has worked hard in recent years to build robust economic, political and security cooperation with key OIC members from West Asia and also bolstered its engagement with members in Asia under its Act East policy. This has resulted in efforts by members such as Bangladesh to push for observer status for India at the OIC.

After all, if Russia, with some 16 million Muslims can be an observer, India, with the world’s third largest Muslim population, is a deserving candidate. There are also some eight million Indians in West Asia, which continues to be the most important source of energy for the country. India’s presence at the OIC meeting could open doors for a broader engagement between the country and the Muslim world that could shore up New Delhi’s interests in areas ranging from energy security to counterterrorism cooperation at a time when the world order is in a flux and new partnerships are being actively forged.

First Published: Mar 04, 2019 07:49 IST

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