Saudi Arabia unwilling to back OIC ministers’ meeting on Kashmir

Published February 6, 2020
Islamabad’s feeling of unease with the OIC on its failure to get the CFM’s meeting appears to be growing. — Photo courtesy Arab News/File
Islamabad’s feeling of unease with the OIC on its failure to get the CFM’s meeting appears to be growing. — Photo courtesy Arab News/File

ISLAMABAD: As the Senior Officials Meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation starts in Jeddah on Feb 9 (Sunday) to make preparations for the OIC’s Council of Foreign Ministers, a diplomatic source said on Wednesday that Saudi Arabia has shown reluctance to accept Pakistan’s request for an immediate meeting of the CFM on Kashmir.

Islamabad’s feeling of unease with the OIC on its failure to get the CFM’s meeting appears to be growing.

Prime Minister Imran Khan voiced frustration over the OIC’s silence on Kashmir while speaking at a think-tank during his visit to Malaysia.

He said: “The reason is that we have no voice and there is a total division amongst [us]. We can’t even come together as a whole on the OIC meeting on Kashmir.”

Pakistan has been pushing for the foreign ministers’ meeting of the 57-member bloc of Muslim countries, which is the second largest intergovernmental body after the UN, since India annexed occupied Kashmir last August.

Although since then there has been a meeting of the contact group on Kashmir on the sidelines of UN General Assembly session in New York and a report by the OIC’s Independent Permanent Human Rights Commission on the rights abuses in India-held Kashmir, no progress could be made towards the CFM’s meeting.

Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, while underscoring the importance of CFM for Pakistan at a recent presser, said it was needed to send a clear message from Ummah on the Kashmir issue.

Imran voiced frustration over OIC’s silence during his Malaysia visit

Support from Riyadh is considered a must for any move at the OIC, which is dominated by Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries from the Gulf.

The kingdom made several proposals to Pakistan to avoid the CFM including holding of a parliamentary forum or speakers’ conference from Muslim countries and, according to one source, a joint meeting on Palestine and Kashmir issues. Pakistan has persisted with its proposal so far.

Islamabad’s position has been that speakers’ meeting is not commensurate with the seriousness of the situation in occupied Kashmir. Secondly, some in Islamabad were worried that the speakers forum could be used by Riyadh for Iran bashing because the speaker of Saudi Shura Dr Abdullah bin Mohammed bin Ibrahim Al Sheikh had undertaken some lobbying in that regard with some of his counterparts.

It should be recalled that it were Turkey, Malaysia and Iran that have unequivocally rejected India’s annexation of Kashmir and voiced serious concerns on atrocities committed by Indian security forces on Kashmiris in the occupied valley.

Moreover, there were apprehensions that clubbing the Kashmir dispute with Palestine at a meeting would effectively put the Kashmir issue on the backburner.

Riyadh had, however, soon after Pakistan’s absence at the Kuala Lumpur summit shown flexibility on the proposal for CFM. Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan indicated that in meetings with Mr Qureshi and PM Khan during his visit to Islamabad in December, when the two sought Saudi support for the proposed meeting.

The Saudi FM was then here to thank Pakistani leadership for staying away from the Malaysia summit because of his country’s reservations. But, then Islamabad missed the bus, fearing that convening of a CFM at this stage would appear as a quid pro quo for shunning Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohamad’s initiative.

The Saudi flexibility too was short-lived and soon Riyadh reverted to its position on the CFM on Kashmir.

FM Qureshi reiterated Islamabad’s desire for the meeting during his visit to Saudi Arabia for defusing tensions in the Persian Gulf after the assassination of Iranian Commander Gen Qassem Soleimani. However, he has not received a positive response as yet. Mr Qureshi recently said he hoped that the Saudis would “not disappoint us”.

Senior Officials Meeting for making preparations for the routine 47th CFM is being held in Jeddah from Sunday. It is expected that the usual resolutions on Kashmir would be included in the agenda of the foreign ministers’ meeting scheduled to be held in Niger in April, but still no special focus on the plight of Kashmiris, who have been enduring lockdown that is now in its 185th day since abrogation of Article 370.

Published in Dawn, February 6th, 2020

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