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 necessary conditions:
• One, such a force is accepted or requested by the Iraqi government and all other warring Iraqi factions.
• 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 themselves.
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)


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