In his address to heads of state and government of more than 30 member states of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) convened at the 13th Islamic Summit in Istanbul, Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan efficaciously reinstated his country at the helm of the Muslim world to combat the increasing might of terrorism. He talked at great length of the “wars, armed conflict, sectarianism and terrorism” that plague areas of the Middle East, setting off a significant migration crisis worldwide. Nevertheless, the decision to establish a Turkey-based multinational police coordination centre for Islamic states to fight militants was one of the few positive initiatives discoursed by the delegations.
However, the outright condemnation of Iran, a member state, at a summit that had been designed to overcome sectarian divisions in the Muslim world, was both unprecedented and undiplomatic. The resounding spat between Saudi Arabia and Iran saw the latter being denounced by OIC for storming the Kingdom’s missions in Tehran and Mashhad. This scathing attack on Iran was continued even in the summit’s final communique, which “deplored Iran’s interference in the internal affairs of the states of the region and other member states, including Bahrain, Yemen, Syria and Somalia, and its continued support for terrorism.” The bashing of Iran did not just affect the country alone but closed all doors for any future prospects of engineering unity and solidarity between the Muslim countries. As a grim prognosis, the the summit’s closing session by the Iranian delegation, headed by President Hassan Rouhani, was heavily boycotted.
The summit held particular importance for the Pakistani leadership because of its elaborate reaffirmation of support to the Kashmiri struggle. No matter how well-intentioned the summit may have been in finally making Kashmir a part of the OIC resolution of the longstanding Palestinian dispute, its elaborate manner does cast some doubts amidst the present political uncertainties in the Middle East. The strategic importance of Pakistan in the Saudi-Iran row cannot be more emphasised. To date, Pakistan is playing its diplomacy very responsibly and has shown no intention of taking sides in the emerging situation. In his previous official visit to Saudi Arabia, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif committed to Saudi King Salman Bin Abdul-Aziz of an even stronger relationship between the two historical allies. His trip was succeeded soon afterwards by the Iranian President Rouhani’s first state visit to Islamabad, where the two premiers debated over many prospective oil, gas and electricity collaborations. However, this decision by Pakistani administration to remain neutral can become even more difficult in the wake of a renewed support for the Kashmiri movement, shown by Abdullah Al-Alim, Saudi secretary general of the OIC contact group. Nevertheless, it is very important that Pakistan resists putting all its eggs in the Saudi basket before evaluating its position as a responsible player in regional politics. As far as OIC is concerned, its failure in uniting all Muslim voices cannot be hidden by a highly-structured discourse over a range of issues. Instead of learning from its previous mistakes of promoting sectarian fragmentation during the Gulf war days, OIC is again allowing itself to be used as an anti-Iranian platform, without considering any future repercussions such behaviour may hold for its own credibility as a peace-making organisation. It is hoped that the platform soon realises its potential to become a unified voice for the entire Muslim community so that a new vision of an active international community can finally emerge, at least in the Islamic world.