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India to attend OIC foreign ministers meet for first time

Sushma Swaraj will be the guest of honour at the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation meet in the UAE next week.

india Updated: Feb 23, 2019 18:03 IST
Rezaul H Laskar
Rezaul H Laskar
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj will be the first Indian foreign minister to participate in the OIC foreign ministers meeting.
External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj will be the first Indian foreign minister to participate in the OIC foreign ministers meeting.(Arvind Yadav)
         

India will, for the first time, attend a meeting of foreign ministers of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation in the UAE, with officials describing the invitation to New Delhi as a significant development in efforts to boost relations with West Asian and Muslim-majority nations.

External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj will attend the inaugural plenary session of the 46th meeting of OIC’s Council of Foreign Ministers in Abu Dhabi during March 1-2 at the invitation of her UAE counterpart, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan. She will address the inaugural plenary session as a guest of honour, the external affairs ministry said in a statement on Saturday.

Over the past few decades, New Delhi has had, at best, a prickly relationship with the OIC, largely because Pakistan frequently used the 56-member grouping to target India on the Kashmir issue. Pakistan and its allies in the Arab world have also blocked attempts to give observer status to India, which has the world’s third largest Muslim population.

A statement from UAE’s foreign ministry said the meeting will be joined by OIC’s “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 honour”.

The external affairs ministry described the 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 invitation also reflects 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” and is a milestone in India’s comprehensive strategic partnership with the UAE, the ministry said.

People familiar with developments said the invitation to India will add to the discomfiture of Pakistan, especially after the strong condemnation of the Pulwama terror attack by Saudi Arabia during Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s visit to New Delhi early this week. The India-Saudi Arabia joint statement had also contained a reference to “Jammu and Kashmir” in the condemnation.

Despite this development, India currently has no plans to make a fresh push for observer status with OIC, they said. “Let’s take it one thing at a time,” said a person familiar with the latest developments.

The OIC meeting, which has the theme “50 years of Islamic cooperation: the roadmap for prosperity and development” coinciding with the organisation’s 50th anniversary, will discuss challenges facing the Muslim world.

The meet will also discuss steps to promote peace and security, counter extremism and combat the exploitation of religion and hate speech by inculcating moderation, restraint and tolerance.

It will also discuss problems faced by “Muslim minorities in non-member States, particularly Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar”, the UAE foreign ministry’s statement said. There was no mention in the statement of Kashmir being on the agenda.

Commodore (retired) C Uday Bhaskar, director of the Society for Policy Studies, described the invitation for India as a “reasonably significant development as the OIC has traditionally not been supportive of India, especially over the Kashmir issue”.

He said, “In the post-Pulwama scenario, there is a certain symbolism in it.”

First Published: Feb 23, 2019 15:16 IST