For the first time in history, India will be participating as the ‘guest of honor’ at the 46th session of the Council of Foreign Ministers of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), to be held in Abu Dhabi. Despite India being home to one of the largest Muslim populations in the world, India has never been a part of the OIC. Indian inclusion in the upcoming OIC session may have been received with some objections on the Pakistani side in the past—given the present circumstances however, Pakistan it seems will not be overtly discouraging of the development. Pakistan has in fact voiced no criticism over the United Arab Emirates’ decision to invite India. In the past, Pakistan has actively lobbied against Indian inclusion and used the OIC forum to discuss and bring to light India’s aggressive policies in Jammu and Kashmir. Pakistan’s restraint on voicing criticism or even boycotting the session is very telling of regional priorities at the moment. It can also be said with some certainty that the acceptance of India to the forum cannot have come without the UAE consulting with other important actors in the forum in advance of making the decision.
With the United States becoming more inward-looking and pulling back in its historic role as the manager of disputes and conflict between India and Pakistan, it seems states such as Saudi Arabia have increased their engagement with the view to perhaps take up the role of a ‘peace-keeper’ and ‘diffuser of tensions’ in the India-Pakistan relationship. Considering Pakistan is intent on winning over the financial and diplomatic support of Riyadh and the wider Gulf region, in all likelihood Islamabad will hence refrain from any criticism of New Delhi’s inclusion.
Pakistan has however requested the OIC to call an “emergency meeting” to review Indian actions amid the recent Pulwama attack in Jammu and Kashmir. Presently to both nations the OIC offers an ideal platform to defend and argue individual policy positions on a range of important issues; at the same time the venue also allows important regional actors from within the forum an opportunity to weigh in on the developing situation and help pave the way for de-escalation in tensions. While Islamabad is expected to cover India’s alleged human rights violation in Jammu and Kashmir at the forum, India will be raising the issue of cross border terrorism and Pakistan’s alleged role in exacerbating it.
Pakistan has voiced its openness towards reconciliation and dialogue for the sake of regional stability. With Pakistan’s acceptance of Indian inclusion in the OIC it seems Pakistan has also accepted the role of the Gulf region in defusing tensions in the Indo-Pak relationship. Pakistan hopes to build a good working relationship with its neighbors. As Islamabad continues to look for ways to engage New Delhi and seeks support from outside actors to facilitate communication, India joining the OIC can be significant for the future of the India-Pakistan relationship.