An OIC Awakening?
By Shireen M Mazari
The OIC Secretary
General recently made a reference to the possibility
of an OIC peacekeeping architecture. The OIC may
finally be getting something right in its new activism
since even before anything substantive has happened,
many external actors are already expressing their
opposition covertly -- often using NGOs within Pakistan
which are leading this pro-activism.
Clearly, this implies a recognition that if the
Muslim World manages to get its act together and
evolves a united approach to the problems confronting
it, it can actually achieve results. This may not
always be in consonance with the self-serving interests
of major powers and hence their trepidation at a
substantive awakening of the OIC.
However, Muslim states must equally be aware of
the sensitivities of all OIC members and any move
that may be seen as an effort to create cliques
within the Organization will jeopardize political
initiatives before they can become operational.
Equally, OIC activism cannot be directed against
any one member of the Organization or even perceived
as being such. That is what the forthcoming meeting
in Islamabad of "like-minded Muslim states"
to arrive at an operational blueprint of President
Musharraf's OIC initiatives has to guard against.
After all, Muslim states cannot afford to be part
of any US-desired bloc against Iran. In fact, if
OIC solutions are to be found to the conflicts afflicting
the Muslim World in West Asia, then Iran has, of
necessity, to be part of the solution. This requires
dialogue which includes Iran and the Arab World,
and in this regard Saudi Arabia's tentative interaction
with Iran should point the way. After all, if the
Arab World is prepared to interact and talk to Israel
-- the enemy for many of them -- then it should
have no hesitancy in dialoguing with Iran. Similarly,
Iran also needs to realize that it needs to move
towards confidence building within its immediate
neighborhood to deny US and Israel operational space.
Nor is it just the isolation of Iran within the
OIC collectivity that needs to be avoided. We need
to be equally careful not to leave out very central
Muslim states, especially states that have been
in the forefront of international peacekeeping operations,
like Bangladesh, when we are seeking a new pro-activism
from within the OIC. After all, why limit the notion
of "like-minded states" to a mere seven
when others could also be invited to expand the
consensus within the Muslim collectivity. Here,
Iran also needs to be co-opted -- even if it means
getting them to participate as observers so no one
feels compromised or neglected. After all, we are
not seeking to create a bloc within the OIC to oppose
other OIC members -- as the US is seeking.
Coming back to the OIC collectivity's efforts to
awaken itself from its decades of stupor and actually
think about an OIC peacekeeping framework, this
is a critical need of the hour. There are two dimensions
that can be operationalised within the concept of
OIC peacekeeping. First, at an overall macro level,
the OIC should ask all its member states to earmark
certain contingents of its national military for
use in aid of other Muslim states -- preferably
within the framework of the UN, but also within
the regional context of the Arab League or even
the African Union. Presently, the European states
have begun doing this more frequently -- operating
under a UN mandate but outside of the Blue Berets,
acting instead as a European force.
A second peacekeeping/peacemaking action that can
be contemplated by the OIC is to put together an
OIC force, composed of states outside of West Asia
but including perhaps states like Indonesia, Malaysia
and Bangladesh to name a few, for Iraq. Such a force
can only become operational contingent upon three
• One, such a force is accepted or requested
by the Iraqi government and all other warring Iraqi
• Two, a UN mandate is forthcoming.
• Three, the present occupying forces of the
'coalition of the willing' depart.
There are those who fear that such a move would
be providing the US an exit strategy and result
in the killing of Muslim forces. However, the point
here is that the US has to be made to leave Iraq
if we are to see the retention of a united Iraq.
So, whether or not such an OIC move may provide
the US and its allies with an exit strategy is not
the main issue. Rather, the primary issue is to
stabilize Iraq as a united state so that the instability
that is spiraling in the region is arrested.
In terms of funds and capabilities, despite widespread
views to the contrary, the OIC is well-equipped
with both. What has so far been lacking is the political
will to move collectively by overcoming misperceptions
and conflicts within the collectivity. It seems
this will is now being generated and the Pakistani
leadership's pro-activism, along with the outreach
by Saudi Arabia, must be sustained. The positive
Saudi and Egyptian interventions to resolve the
intra-Palestinian conflict and the Palestinian factions'
response to this, shows that such moves are not
only needed, they are being sought to fill the vacuum
in these conflict zones which has allowed extra-regional
powers to occupy space with their negative policies.
Presently, the proliferation and force build-ups
by extra-regional powers in West Asia, especially
the Gulf region, threatens to destabilize and perhaps
set afire the whole neighborhood. Even more dangerous
are American ideas of redrawing borders to cut the
larger Muslim states "down to size". Therefore,
the need for evolving a broad consensus amongst
the OIC members, even while intra-OIC disputes prevail
-- is no more a choice but a necessity. Such a basic
consensus can also provide a more conducive environment
for conflict resolution amongst the OIC members
Also, as part of what seems to be a new pro-activism
on the part of the OIC, it would be desirable to
add a stronger civil society context to this Organization.
With a greater involvement of women activists, academics,
analysts and media personnel, the potential for
fighting obscurantism and extremism in our own societies
will multiply as groups lend support to governments
and other groups across states. So far, the OIC
has been devoid of active civil society involvement,
which has led to its neglect by the Muslim people
at large. For too long, the Muslim World's disunity
has worked to the advantage of the major powers.
But now this disunity is proving to be debilitating
for the Muslim World across national divides. That
is why a new awakening is no more an option or a
luxury but a matter of survival.
(Dr Shireen Mazari is director general of the Institute
of Strategic Studies in Islamabad)