OIC Summit: Preparing for Twenty-First Century
The Nation
March 23, 1997
Never before the challenges faced by the states of the Muslim world were as massive as they are today. That means there is a greater need for the Muslim people to coordinate on issues that concerns them and their faith. For the first time, Islam and Muslims are becoming political issues within Western countries. Based on the notion of ‘Islamic fundamentalism’, foreign policies of many of the Western states are increasing reflecting hostility towards the Muslim world. The Muslim nations have to devise a common strategy not just to tackle implications of this challenge but to develop and modernize themselves as well, so as to be globally competitive in the twenty-first century.

The extraordinary summit session of the Organization of Islamic Conference being held in Islamabad today, for its very agenda being on ‘ Preparing the Islamic World for the Twenty-First Century, provides an excellent opportunity for the Muslim world to chalk out a credible future course of action while taking into consideration its organizational, collective failures and achievements of the past. This is the first extraordinary OIC summit, at the level of the heads of government or state, with a peculiar agenda to identify the weaknesses and deficiencies of the organization as well as to strengthen and streamline its

management capabilities in line with the world’s progressive march towards the next century. As for the OIC’s creation, the outrage committed by the Zionists in Al-Aqsa Mosque in 1969 had threatened the religious heritage of the Muslims. Consequently, the Muslim states felt the need to organize in the form of an international body. Thus, some 25 Muslim leaders gathered in Rabat, Morocco, in 1969. That summit was followed by meeting of the Muslim states’ foreign ministers in 1970, which led to the holding of the OIC’s five summits in the next three decades, excluding the one that took place in 1969.

Since 1970, the OIC foreign ministers have also been meeting every year. Their off and on extra-ordinary meetings, which are called to cope with emergency situations, are in addition to this. However, more important than successive holding of these various sorts of summits and meetings, and the various resolutions and declarations they have passed, is the fact that the organizational setup of the OIC has itself expanded. Though the primary focus of its agenda is to develop a commonality of interest and perception among the member-states on key political issues like Palestine, Kashmir, Bosnia and Cyprus; the organizational activities now cover cooperation among the member states in areas such as trade and finance, science and technology.

An Ineffective Forum

Still the OIC lacks effectiveness as a player on the international stage. The first and foremost reason is that it fails to represent the actual strength of the Muslim world. As of 1997, the OIC had 54 members-states. Out of these, 50 were full members while four had the observer status. The Muslim world has 20 percent of the world’s population, producing 50 per cent of the world’s oil, and accounting for 40 per cent of the world’s exports of raw materials. Yet, the GNP of the Muslim worlds is 4.5 per cent of the world’s total and its share in world exports is only seven per cent. Half of the OIC member-states are least developed countries and their total debt stands at US $385 billion.

In the economic sphere, institutional cooperation among OIC states is still at its budding stage, despite the fact that over a quarter of a century has passed since the establishment of the organization. The intra-OIC trade is a fraction of the over-all trade of the member-states. The fact to realize here is that there is unlimited, untapped potential for safeguarding interests of the Muslim world. This potential is not being availed adequately and intelligently.

The second aspect of the lack of effectiveness of the OIC as an international player is its severe financial crisis–since many of its member-states have failed to pay the dues to the OIC, which amounts to tens of millions of US dollars. The lack of funding also mars cooperation in the field of science and technology.

For instance, the OIC Standing Committee on Science and Technology needed some $4.735 million for the year 1996. The actual funding that eventually came was a fraction of this amount, which was provided voluntarily by some oil-rich Muslim states like Saudi Arabia. This lack of funding has made various OIC bodies on science and technology mere paper bodies. They include the Islamic Educational, Science, Technology and Cultural organization, the Islamic Foundation for Science, Technology and Development; Inter-Islamic Networks on Biotechnology, Renewable Energy, Oceanography, Space Research, Tropical Medicine and Water Resources. Their delegates meet, pass resolutions—and that’s all.

No Follow-up

Primarily due to the lack of funding, the decisions reached during their meetings cannot be implemented. Therefore, more important than issuing declarations of intent for the future is the need to examine the reasons for the non-implementation of existing decisions and to forge the political will to accelerate political and economic cooperation. OIC’s past performance leaves much to be desired especially when it comes to implementation and follow-up of the decisions taken at its summits and conferences.

For instance, many a times during their meetings, the OIC foreign ministers decided to send a fact-finding mission to the Indian-administered Kashmir to assess the human rights situation there. These decisions could not be implemented as the OIC Secretariat failed to follow up effectively. Even if New Delhi had objected to the OIC decisions, the fact that India’s economy is dependent in many ways on oil-rich Sheikhdoms could have been used to pressure the Indian government on the issue.

In 1991, when the UN General Assembly passed resolution repealing its earlier resolution of 1975 which had certified Zionism as “a form of racism and racial discrimination”, some OIC members chose to abstain from the vote. Just a week before this resolution was passed, the same Muslim states had resolved at an OIC meeting to condemn Zionism. Likewise, Iran does abstain from voting on Kashmir at the UN Human Rights Commission sessions in Geneva, even if its stand on Kashmir at the OIC level remains very much the same as that of Pakistan or the rest of the states the Muslim world.

The Muslim world has itself to blame for its travails, as many of its member-states practice double- standards in their international behavior, which in turn cause the weakness and the lack of effectiveness of the OIC. Muslim countries have to minimize the perceived conflict of interests among them to bring into play their combined political and economic clout. It is this perceived clash of interests, coupled with the dependence of major Muslim states on the West, which has led to various setbacks the world of Islam has suffered over the years.

The numerous declarations issued within the OIC framework are significant only as expression of the political consensus of the Muslim world on issues of common concern to him. However, if Muslim states wish to progress beyond this point and to exercise credible leverage on matters of vital interest for the Muslim world—in keeping with its demographic, strategic and economic importance—they will have to promote the complementarily of vital economic interests among the member-states and express the political will at the highest level, both of which are now lacking.

Post-Cold War Constraints

The political and economic challenges confronting the Muslim world continue to linger largely due to the lack of a joint strategy. Internal political divisions have cramped it from within. Forceful resolutions, passed by OIC meetings and summits, are not translated into concrete actions due to this division. As already pointed out, they mostly get stuck at the implementation stage, only to be re-issued at the next summit.

In the post-Cold War period, like the rest of the developing states, a number of Muslim countries have lost the political leverage that was available to them due to superpower competition. With the loss of the balance and counterpoise provided by superpowers in the Cold War era, the need for closer cooperation among Muslim states assumes greater importance as a safeguard against arbitrary pressures and intervention in a unilateral would order. The thrust of OIC activities is on promoting cooperation by using the common factors of culture, history and geographical proximity.

The OIC is not a platform to promote confrontation with the non-Muslim world. And, this is something that the OIC members-states must also emphasize, individually and collectively, in their dealings with the Western world. That is the best way to counter the growing Western phobia about Islam and Muslims. The Muslim countries must project the distinction between legitimate national struggles such as Kashmir and Palestine, on the one hand, and mindless terrorism, on the other. There is need to counter distortions and misconceptions regarding Islam. It is important that Muslim states make a reappraisal of the convergence or divergence of their policies and interests with those of the West so as to work out the prospects and possibilities in the changed global order.

Close political cooperation, bilateral, regional, and under the umbrella of the OIC, should be undertaken while realizing the varying compulsions of different states, coupled with the recognition of the underlying fundamental identity of interests. Such cooperation would go a long way in strengthening the position of Muslim states in dealing with major powers of the world. It is essential for the Muslim community of nations to recognize their underlying identity of interests, including their situation as economically developing, militarily vulnerable, but politically mistrusted countries.

Need of the Hour

One of the foremost dilemmas faced by the Muslim world is the prolonged perpetuation of colonial political institutions. In the post-independence period, political institutions by and large have remained intact, representing and functioning within the dynamics of a power elite syndrome inherited from the colonial past and with the fundamental disagreement on the nature of change that may be pursued in the economic, political, cultural, educational and social sectors. The historical linkage of the power elite with the colonial state has subjugated the interests of the people and has been detrimental to the articulation of their interests.

For meeting the challenges of tomorrow, what the OIC states require is, first, the need for changing the prevalent oligarchic order in a large number of Muslim countries and promoting people’s politics in the Muslim world to replace the pernicious tendency of accepting the status-quo. So long as the Muslim world is unable to self-govern, there is no hope of redemption.

A considerable portion of the Muslim population still lives under authoritarian and dynastic regimes; and only marginal populations of the OIC member-states are privileged to have participatory and democratic government. This being the nature and structure of the Muslim world, rulers could hardly speak for their people. This is what makes the successive OIC summits and their deliberations irrelevant to the issues of facing the Muslim.

One hopes that the extraordinary session of the OIC summit in Islamabad will respond to the requirements of the new age and chalk out an effective course of action for itself, and, more importantly, for the generations of the Muslims to come.