Expert Speak Young Voices
Published on Mar 31, 2022
Is Imran Khan using the OIC platform as a last resort to change the unfavourable domestic political situation in Pakistan and to regain his popularity amongst his citizens?
Pakistan and the OIC: A divided house? After hosting an Emergency session of the members of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in December 2021 to apparently ‘galvanise’ the collective efforts of the Muslim world for ameliorating the situation in Afghanistan, Pakistan recently convened the 48th summit of the Council of Foreign Ministers (CFM) of the OIC countries. Held on 22-23 March in Islamabad, the conference garnered attention because of two important reasons: Its timing, considering the volatile political situation in Pakistan, and the presence of the Chinese Foreign Minister, Mr Wang Yi as a ‘special guest’. Focusing on forging ‘partnerships for unity, justice, and development’, the conference saw the involvement of 46 ministerial level delegations, with approximately 800 delegates present in different capacities. At a press briefing post the meeting, the Pakistani Foreign Minister, Shah Mehmood Quereshi highlighted the seven key outcomes of the deliberations: The promulgation of the Islamabad declaration; the successful passing of “forceful” resolutions, a joint communique and an action plan on Jammu and Kashmir; the operationalisation of a humanitarian fund and appointment of a special envoy for Afghanistan; a resolution on the threat to peace and security in South Asia; and the demand for a joint probe in the accidental missile launch by India on 9 March. Pakistan’s proposal to convene a ministerial conference in 2022–23 to create mechanisms for conflict prevention, mediation and peacebuilding was also accepted and it expressed satisfaction at the passage of 20 resolutions sponsored/co-sponsored by it. On the sidelines of the meeting, the host country also conducted 16 bilateral meetings with the delegates, apart from a separate meeting with the United States (US) Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights, Uzra Zeya, touching upon the US–Pakistan partnership.

Quest for a favourable image projection

For the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government, the conference was a desperately needed antidote to salvage a fast-deteriorating domestic political situation and project a degree of legitimacy in the eyes of the electorate. It was also intended to reflect Islamabad’s leadership role in the Muslim world. For any civilian government in Pakistan, establishing a credible international image has been the biggest challenge to navigate through. With the perennial confrontation between the state and the military and the recent tussle over the No-Confidence Motion (NCM), the negative image of the country has been further cemented. Apart from the successful adoption of any tangible outcomes, the importance of the conference also lay in its symbolism: It was an exercise in positioning Islamabad in the centre, acting as a bridge between the member countries. The participation of members in the Pakistan day parade on 23 March, like Azerbaijan, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Uzbekistan was also considered an illustration of the goodwill that the state apparently enjoys. While delivering his opening remarks, Imran Khan expressed remorse at the ‘divided’ nature of the group and its inability or unwillingness to come together for a common cause. For Pakistan, the OIC is a tool to propagate its vested interests in the region, especially in the context of the situation in Kashmir. It has consistently used the platform for taking shots at India’s policies and actions in the region and exhorted the members to take a position against New Delhi. While many a resolutions have been adopted and many communiques passed, for most of the OIC member states like the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Qatar, and Saudi Arabia, their relationship with India is too crucial and seemingly not worth jeopardising over the protestations of one member. Though this does not mean that they do not endorse the resolutions passed on Kashmir, most of them have clarified that their collective position in the grouping is only superficial. This was evident in 2019 when India’s External Affairs Minister, the late Shrimati Sushma Swaraj was invited at the OIC conference at the behest of the UAE, defying Pakistan’s assertions against the decision. While the latest meeting was in session, a delegation from the UAE was also present in India for the Gulf Investment Summit in Jammu and Kashmir. India on its part has accused the group of ‘falling prey to the agenda of a single participant’ and questioned their locus standi to comment on its internal affairs. It remarked how the resolutions passed in the 48th CFM demonstrate the “irrelevance of OIC as a body and role of Pakistan as its manipulator”. Apart from the Kashmir issue, a resolution on the accidental firing of a missile from India which landed in Mian Channu in Pakistan was also adopted, urging India to work “constructively with Pakistan…and establish a Strategic Restraint Regime”.

A superficial victory

Following up on the December 2021 meeting, the member states also formally operationalised the Afghanistan Humanitarian Trust Fund along with the Islamic Development Bank by signing a charter a day before the conference. The successful adoption of a resolution sponsored by the OIC to designate an International Day to Combat Islamophobia in the United Nations was also viewed as a collective victory of the group even though the final draft watered down a lot of the provisions in the original. The crisis in Ukraine was also deliberated during informal conversations amongst the delegates with the Prime Minister urging the members to “mediate, try to bring about a ceasefire and an end to the conflict”. Whilst the conference and the subsequent resolutions and statements were intended to position Imran Khan as a leader who speaks for the rights of the beleaguered, the international community has always been aware of the vested interests behind Pakistan’s evocative rhetoric on Kashmir and other struggles. The fact that the Chinese Foreign Minister addressed the conference and made a reference to Kashmir, vowing to support its ‘Islamic friends’ in resolving some ‘contemporary hotspot issues’, while millions of Uyghurs are suffering under the excesses of the state shows how human rights and the categorisation of struggles as just and worthy of a discussion are a function of the political and economic relations between countries. The complete omission of the (ill) treatment of Uyghurs is a result of the power of extensive Chinese investments in the Middle East, South Asia, and North Africa and the readiness of the member states to overlook the suffering of an ethnic group in return, a vindictive use of human suffering to further their domestic and foreign policy agendas.


A few days before the conference was to formally convene, some members of the Opposition parties in Pakistan threatened to disrupt the OIC meeting if the NCM wasn’t introduced in the Assembly on the designated date. While the threat was later rescinded, the days following the conclusion of the conference have been equally tumultuous. Mass power shows were organised by both the government and the Opposition with polarising speeches and statements delivered. As the voting on the motion is expected to take place in the first week of April, the days ahead will be difficult for everyone in Pakistan. Even though the Imran Khan government wanted to use the OIC conference as a last attempt to demonstrate his hold on power and to burst the myth of an isolated Pakistan struggling to keep afloat, it wasn’t very successful in doing that. The unequal power dynamics amongst the member countries, which makes any consensus building difficult and its superficial advocacy for the rights of the Muslims in the world, by choosing to ignore those which don’t suit their interests does not speak well for an organisation which aims to be a “collective voice for the Muslim world”.
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