- Kashmiri freedom and the OIC
The expression of disappointment by Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi at the failure of the Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC) to convene a meeting on the illegal Indian occupation of Kashmir was a reflection of the reality that the concept of Muslim unity, which the OIC is supposed to represent, does not fit with the organization of the world into nation-states, which the OIC is supposed to reflect.
The OIC came into existence to bring to bear the weight of the Muslim world on the Palestinian issue, after a fire broke out in Masjid Al-Aqsa, which was then newly in the custody of Israel. It has taken notice of the Kashmir issue, which arose just before that of Palestine, but which Pakistan saw even then as one of illegal occupation in defiance of the UN.
Israel’s existence was not really at stake for the Arab states that went to war with it in 1948, but they certainly did not see as correct the British granting independence to Palestine, that little bit of the Ottoman Empire it had kept after World War I as a League of Nations mandate, so that it could fulfill the Balfour Declaration, in which it had promised the creation of a Jewish homeland. Afterwards, the problem grew, as Palestinians formed a diaspora in the Arab world. There were two more wars of Arab states with Israel, ending with the 1967 Six-day War, in which Israel not only occupied the Palestinian West Bank, but also Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula and Syria’s Golan Heights. Meanwhile, Pakistan’s fight for Kashmir involved a war in 1965, and then in 1971, in which East Pakistan became Bangladesh with Indian help. Egypt meanwhile redeemed itself partially by the Yom Kippur War of 1973, which was not a victory, but was not as crushing a defeat, and led to the 1977 Camp David Accord, whereby Egypt recognized Israel, and made peace with it.
Having got that deal done, the USA also spent time trying to get Pakistan and India to make peace and resolve the Kashmir issue, but could not manage it. Perhaps one reason was the USA needed Pakistan too much in the 1980s in Afghanistan against the USSR, which led the USA to allow the nuclear development by Pakistan and to avoid peace with India.
However, one of the elements of the equation, that of Indian influence in the Gulf, arose around this time. India was interested in relations with both the Arabs and Iran for any number of reasons, the main being that their crude oil fuelled its drive towards development. One benefit was that Arab countries tended to backpedal on their support for Pakistan and the Kashmir cause.
Pakistanis might need to realize that the goals of Ummah unity and Kashmiri freedom are inter-related. Only a united Ummah can free Kashmir (assuming that it can also avoid the risk of nuclear war). And that unity is not going to be delivered by the OIC, or some Ajami-backed formation
Arab states were content with the situation where they backed the Palestinian cause because it was a pan-Arab issue, Pakistan backed it because it was an Islamic issue, but Arabs were free to go soft on Kashmir because it was not an Arab issue. Pakistan has only now made a public objection, because it feels it has been had. It had initially agreed to attend the Kuala Lumpur Summit, where two leading non-Arab Muslim countries, Malaysia and Turkey, had invited Pakistan. Both had made strong statements criticizing India for its abrogation of Indian-Occupied Kashmir’s special status last year, something which no Arab state did. Indeed, Indian PM Narendra Modi toured the Gulf at that time, and was decorated and feted.
At one level, the Arabs are right. The Kashmir cause might be similar to the Palestinian, but it is not an Arab cause. The Kashmiris require Arab sympathies because they are an oppressed people, not because they are Arabs. In a world of nationalism, Kashmir is a Pakistani cause because it is the unfinished business of Partition, not because Kashmiris are fellow Muslims. What is the commonality between a Christian Arab and a Sikh Kashmiri? Partition did occur on religious basis, not because religion is a basis of nationalism, but because the Muslims of India insisted they were a nation.
Other nations have been created on the basis of religion. Israel itself has been created as a Jewish homeland. Judaism does not just represent a system of beliefs, but also a racial element which is included in nationalism. Cyprus has been partitioned on religious lines, though there is a strong cultural difference between the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus and the Republic of Cyprus, which is not just Greek Orthodox in religion, but also Greek in culture.
Another concept has been tested: the power of money. Saudi Arabia had withdrawn its deposit with the State Bank of Pakistan, placed to prop up forex reserves which showed that it could not force Pakistan to do just about anything under the pressure of its wealth. It had been used to doing so, and had correspondingly spent large amounts on the OIC.
The OIC is a sort of mini-UN, and its ancillary organizations mirror those of the UN, while the Islamic Development Bank mirrors the World Bank. However, the need to parallel the UN has to do with a vestigial memory of the Caliphate. It may be remembered that after three centuries of a shadow caliphate in Egypt after the fall of Baghdad to the Mongols, the caliphate passed for the first time to Ajamis, the Osmanlis, in 1526, and remained there until its abolition in 1924. The abolition allowed the Arabs to reclaim their dominance over Islam. Oil wealth accelerated this.
However, the uncertainties surrounding oil, now to be replaced by renewables, gives a horizon when the Arabs will no longer be sitting on such a valuable commodity. Ajamis are once again exerting themselves. Ajamis have a point. The Quran is in Arabic, and the Holy Prophet (PBUH) was not only the Universal Prophet, but he was the only one sent to the Arabs. However, Islam is not meant only for the Arabs. The majority of Muslims is Ajami. There is no single Ajami group with a majority.
The main reason for the OIC is national interest: the need of Muslim countries’ governments to make a gesture towards the masses’ desire for Muslim unity. The problem is, the masses are not completely satisfied, and want more. Thus a purely nationalistic desire by the Pakistan government has come into conflict with Saudi national interests, and Pakistan’s Foreign Minister has to couch his complaint in terms of the OIC and the Ummah.
The Saudis are probably surprised, for it was only doing something the USA had done, which was stay out of the Kashmir issue as it warms to India. Pakistan has said nothing about the USA, though there has been some wondering about where the world powers are. But then, Pakistanis do not really have a complaint against the USA for ignoring the plight of Muslims. Another problem has been US influence on Saudi Arabia. It might be possible to live with the OIC as a Saudi support group, but as an American? That never happened even during the USA’s crusade against Godless communism, precisely because it was a crusade.
It is a little puzzling to notice that the Muslim countries silent on Kashmir are kingdoms and dictatorships whose governments’ right to speak for the people is untested, if not downright doubtful, while Malaysia and Turkey are democracies, whose governments must pay attention to public opinion. What does the Arab street feel about Kashmir? Not strongly enough to rebel against governments giving Modi medals, but it would be a stretch to assume that they are with their governments.
Pakistanis might need to realize that the goals of Ummah unity and Kashmiri freedom are inter-related. Only a united Ummah can free Kashmir (assuming that it can also avoid the risk of nuclear war). And that unity is not going to be delivered by the OIC, or some Ajami-backed formation.