By Air Commodore (R) Khalid Iqbal
As the OIC meets, for its fourth extraordinary summit in Makkah, to discuss the challenges confronting the Ummah, its platter would certainly be full. Though the Islamic world has been in a state of turmoil since World War I, affairs of Muslim countries have gone into a nosedive since 9/11. Country after country has faced invasions and regime changes or attempts toward regime change. Efforts to create a Middle East pliant to US-Israeli interests and reconfiguring Pakistan into a pliant entity to Indo-US nexus are on, with full vigour.
Nevertheless, the fruits of Arab spring have turned sour for those who were eyeing on its spoils; most of the emerging regimes are more nationalist in their format and content. In Pakistan, the public opinion harbours highest ever anti-America sentiment. A recent PEW survey indicated that around 64% Pakistanis carry negative perceptions about America. Iran survived an American funded regime change attempt after its last presidential elections.
Through their performance, Western dominated international institutions have often radiated an anti-Islam bias. For example, the UN is very prompt to broker peace processes when the likely beneficiaries are non-Muslims; and lets the conflict ferment and compound when beneficiaries could be the Muslim people or states. Likewise, the World Bank and IMF look towards an American wink before extending even meagre borrowings to developing Muslim countries, whereas these entities have been rather generous in allowing mega bailouts to save defaulting countries of the EU; all non Muslim.
This perception of victimhood is well home to the younger generation of Muslims. This lot is certainly looking forward to see a more nationalist orientation of their respective governments and view the elderly leadership of the Muslim countries as irrelevant. The uprising beginning with Tunisia, culminating in revolutionary fervour in Egypt, Yemen and Bahrain have been the most vocal and visible manifestations of the impatience of the populace to no longer let the status quo carry on.
Unilateral misinterpretation of UNSC resolutions 1973 &1979 to expand a limited mandate of setting up a no-fly zone over Libya into imposing of a full-fledged war has left the Muslim countries worried about future misusage of such mandates. The pendulum has now moved to the other extreme where even constructive engagement of the UN in Syria is being blocked through use of vetoes. Failure of Kofi Annan’s Plan for Syria indicates indifferent attitude of the UN towards hapless Syrians.
In the wake of 9/11, Islam has been demonised as a religion supportive of terror and interpreted as an existential challenge to the West and its values of democracy and human rights. Though history may take a long time to answer many of the quires related to the unfortunate happenings of 9/11, striking paradox that though all 19 hijackers were of Arab origin, yet Afghanistan was chosen for invasion, haunts the younger generation of Muslims, the world over. Likewise smoke screen of fabricated evidence of Iraqi WMDs in a run-up to its invasion and creation of similar fears about Chemical Weapons’ stockpiles by Syria augment suspicions about implementation of an incremental strategy to keep as many Muslim countries on the boiling burners as possible. American disregard of the UN stance on Iraqi invasion has thrown up a precedence of going by arrogance prompted unilateralism in statecraft, based on fabricated intelligence; and yet getting away with.
Similarly selective application of Human Rights standards and urgencies also give an impression that even noble causes have become tools for furthering grand strategies and greater games. Moreover, in the name of war against terror, major Muslim countries have been exposed to economic sanctions and military aggression. There are blatant strategy related errors pointing towards intent of sustaining some of the ongoing conflicts, rather than resolving them; to justify long term military presence for ulterior strategic motives.
Since its balkanization after the two world wars, the Middle East has remained a flashpoint of unrest and strife. Israel continues its occupation of Palestinian and other Arab lands, with impunity. Its repressive policies in the West Bank and brutal blockade of Gaza have pushed the local population into a long nightmare of terror and misery.
During these difficult times, recurring failures of the OIC to take charge of the crises and demonstrate its capacity and capability to own the problems faced by Islamic counties continue to have numerous consequences of strategic magnitude. This organisation, mandated to “safeguard dignity, independence and national rights of all Muslim peoples” is generally neither seen, nor heard. It has let pass one catastrophe after the other; emerging weaker after each fiasco. Its Middle Eastern sub-set the Arab League has been abdicating its responsibility during recent happenings in the Middle East and had rather hastily passed on the buck to the UN.
Though there have been attempts to revitalise the OIC, such spikes peeked off rather quickly; and the entity returned to its business as usual mode. Mr Mahatir Mohammad, former Prime Minister of Malaysia, while hosting the 10th OIC summit in Kuala Lumpur in 2003 made a frank analysis of the prevailing situation, and gave a wake-up call for restructuring and reforming the OIC to make it relevant. A commission of eminent persons was set up to examine the melancholy. Commission made very pertinent practical and concrete suggestions to revitalise the OIC. A special summit held in Makkah, in December 2005, approved the recommendations and agreed on “a 10 year strategy plan for Islamic renaissance and pursue policies to face the formidable challenges on all fronts”. Ten billion dollars were allocated for the programme. Yet, the OIC has not improved even a bit.
This collective failure of the leadership of the Muslim World has certainly not been taken kindly by the Muslim youth. This frustration has caused desperation, violent rage and extremism, partially contributing towards emergence of Taliban and Al-Qaeda like phenomena.
Problems facing the Ummah are complex and varied, warranting a combined effort of all Muslim countries to join hands in finding a solution, through a process of broad-based consultation, negotiation and dialogue. The summit is expected to deliberate upon the threats of fragmentation and sedition being faced by the Muslim world and come up with a strategy for damage reduction.
Undoubtedly this extraordinary summit is being convened under extraordinary circumstances. Credit goes to the government of Saudi Arabia for taking this initiative. Now, all eyes are set on its outcome. Hopefully, meaningful steps would be taken towards OIC’s capacity enhancement in the context of crisis management and conflict resolution. We hope that summit would go beyond patchy fire fighting, and stand up to the occasion. We wish that summit outcome should reflect the hopes and aspirations of the Ummah, especially the younger generation.
Writer is Consultant, Policy & Strategic Response, IPRI. Email:Khalid3408@gmail.com