Sushma Swaraj invited to address Organisation of Islamic Cooperation meet

Updated - February 23, 2019 10:24 pm IST

Published - February 23, 2019 09:23 pm IST - NEW DELHI

New Delhi: External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj addresses at 'Mega Silk event – Surging Silk', in New Delhi, Saturday, Feb 9, 2019. (PTI Photo/Manvender Vashist) (PTI2_9_2019_000111A)

New Delhi: External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj addresses at 'Mega Silk event – Surging Silk', in New Delhi, Saturday, Feb 9, 2019. (PTI Photo/Manvender Vashist) (PTI2_9_2019_000111A)

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj will address the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Foreign Ministers meet on March 1, the first time the Islamic body has invited an Indian dignitary to attend, the government announced on Saturday.

Coming on the heels of statements of solidarity from the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) over the Pulwama attack, the speech at the OIC inaugural plenary is also expected to take forward India’s case for action against the Jaish-e Mohammad and strictures on Pakistan.

Thanking the host United Arab Emirates, the Ministry of External Affairs said it saw the invite “as a milestone in [India’s] 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 MEA statement said.

Officials told The Hindu that the UAE had sounded out India about the event in January 2019, and that it was a “major diplomatic success”, which reflected the overall improvement in ties with countries in the Muslim world, and in UAE in particular in the areas of security, energy and investment.

According to the UAE’s State-owned Emirates News Agency, “the friendly country of India” has been named as the guest of honour “in view of its great global political stature as well as its time-honoured and deeply rooted cultural and historical legacy, and its important Islamic component.”

The invitation, that came from UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, marks a major turnaround between India and the group of Islamic countries, that have often clashed over the issue of Kashmir.

The OIC has a specially designated “Kashmir contact group” that meets every year and coordinates positions at the United Nations, often led by Pakistan, to protest alleged human rights violations in Jammu and Kashmir and invoke UN resolutions. In 2018 alone, the OIC had issued no less than five statements specifically dealing with the situation in J&K, and calling for the international community to intervene.

Just two months ago, the OIC had issued a statement after an encounter between security forces and militants in Pulwama, referring to the firing by Indian security forces as a “wicked terrorist act”.

Owaisi criticises move

Criticising the government for accepting the invitation from the OIC, given its previous stand, AIMIM leader and MP Asaduddin Owaisi said it was “a shame and regretful that India is sending Sushma Swaraj to an organisation which calls Jammu and Kashmir as Indian-occupied Kashmir”.

India has often protested these statements, saying the OIC has “no locus standi” to comment on India's internal affairs. The upcoming OIC Foreign Minister’s meeting will be watched closely, as a result, for both India’s maiden speech at the organisation, as well as for whether the Islamic body is now prepared to tone down criticism of India.

“It is easier to be there and have an impact on the messaging then staying out. This is our way of ensuring that India’s voice is heard at a platform for the first time” a source said, when asked about the reasons for the turnaround in including India.

Although India was part of the initial negotiations for the OIC in the 1960s, it was never included in the 50-year-old, 56-member group, mainly due to Pakistan’s opposition. In 2018, Bangladesh and Turkey called for reform in the OIC and granting India observer status, but have yet to make progress on that. The OIC Observer states, or states with large Muslim populations at present are Bosnia and Herzegovina, Central African Republic (CAR), Thailand, Russia and ‘Northern Cyprus’.

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