India invited to OIC meet as ‘guest of honour’

In a significant first, external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj will address the inaugural session of the foreign ministers’ conclave of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation on March 1. She has been invited by the United Arab Emirates as a ‘guest of honour’.

India has never been invited to the OIC before and the latest development, coming at a time when India-Pakistan tension is running high, is being seen as a diplomatic success. The foreign ministry said it was a “welcome recognition of the presence of 185 million Muslims in India, their contribution to its pluralistic ethos, and of India’s contribution to the Islamic world”. The OIC had denied India a seat when the grouping started.

The invitation by UAE foreign minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan over a month ago is a sign of the deepening bilateral relationship as it would have needed diplomatic heavy-lifting, particularly as the decision does not suit Pakistan that looks on OIC as a forum to rake up anti-India issues.

In the last few years, India has improved ties with the Islamic world from Saudi Arabia to Indonesia, while building on good relations with countries like Qatar and Oman. “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,” said MEA.

While it was Bangladesh that floated the idea of India becoming an observer at the OIC in 2018, the UAE invite offers India an opportunity to address the forum.

While observer status still looks distant, Swaraj’s presence at the OIC plenary is not likely to change the organisation’s stand on Jammu and Kashmir, where they have always supported Pakistan. But India’s presence is a big sign that the OIC may be open to looking at India and — perhaps Kashmir — differently.

In the past week, Pakistan has been at the receiving end from the international community with the Financial Action Task Force rapping Pakistan for failing to curb support to terror and then the UN Security Council issuing a strong statement on Pulwama that named Jaish-e-Mohammad. The OIC invitation is important for India, particularly in the wake of the Pulwama terror attack. Pakistan would be looking to use the OIC forum to lash out at India, maybe to turn OIC against India. As India looks for a response to the terror attack, the OIC platform gives India a unique opportunity to convey its views.

Sushma Swaraj is expected to not only dwell on India’s historical relationship with the Islamic world, but she will talk about terrorism and radicalisation and the importance of countering these force

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