In a move likely to displease Pakistan, Bangladesh has sounded the first official call to induct countries with large Muslim populations, like India, as observers to the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, a club which has only Muslim majority countries as its members.
At a meeting of OIC foreign ministers in Dhaka on Saturday, Bangladesh minister Abul Hasan Mahmood Ali called for reforms in the organisation that can pave the way for countries like India, which are not Muslim majority, to get an observer seat in the OIC.
Though Pakistan is unlikely to welcome the proposal as it uses the forum to regularly target India, the list of likely candidates also includes its “all-weather” ally China and Bangladesh have also put forward the “inclusion” argument to say that large Muslim populations should not be denied a say at the OIC.
Muslims in India constitute 10% of the global adherents of the faith.
Egypt, with a population of 92 million, is 5% of the global Muslim population. In terms of Muslims as a percentage of the global population, India ranks third after Indonesia and Pakistan. Ali said, “A number of countries, not OIC members, have a large number of Muslims as their citizens. The Muslims may be a minority in those countries, but in terms of the number they often exceed the total population of many OIC member countries.”
“There is a need to build bridges with those non-OIC countries so that a large number of Muslim populations do not remain untouched by the good work of OIC. That is why reforms and restructuring are critical for OIC,” the Bangladesh foreign minister said. Calling for reforms of the organisation to make it more contemporary, Ali said, “We need to rethink our work, method and process of functioning to cater to the needs of the current era and beyond.”
Bangladesh’s suggestion received the support of the OIC secretary general. This is not the first time there has been a call to bring countries like India into the ambit of the OIC, but Pakistan has always held a veto position.
In the past decade, however, India’s relations with the Islamic world have undergone a considerable transformation.
Former Saudi ruler Abdullah had, in 2006, proposed that India become an observer in OIC. But that did not go anywhere. In the 1990s, Pakistan has used the OIC to hit out at India on J&K. As recently as September 2017, India refuted egregious comments on J&K by Pakistan at the UN. Pakistan was speaking on behalf of the OIC.
“The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation has no locus standi on India’s internal affairs, we strongly advise the OIC to refrain from making such references in future,” India said. The OIC statements mean less these days because a number of OIC countries privately dissociate themselves from the grouping, considering it more of an irritant.
This has prevented India from engaging more meaningfully with the organisation even though India has fairly robust relations with most member states.