India at OIC – Is it a Turning Point in India’s Diplomacy?

 By Vishakh Krishnan Valiathan


In the midst of growing tensions between India and Pakistan – the south Asian neighbours, it is interesting to note that India was invited for the first time by the Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC) as the ‘Guest of Honour’[[i]] for the 46th summit of the Foreign Ministers of the 57 member organisation. Sushma Swaraj, Minister of External Affairs represented India at the meet. Demographically, India is the second largest Muslim populated nation constituting eleven percent of the world’s Muslim population -according to a 2015 report of Pew Research Centre[[ii]]. The current geopolitical and security environment is also very important with regard to the invitation at Abu Dhabi. The changing nature of diplomacy and the increasing cross- border terrorism in the subcontinent has been appalling. Globally, the tensions between India and Pakistan in the last few weeks have been the focus. India expressed the growing state sponsored terrorism as a regional issue which needs an international response. India’s growing interest and partnerships in West Asia in the last decade has given a platform to express its concerns on regional instability and extremism.

India’s Diplomatic win at Abu Dhabi

The collective population as of 2018 among the OIC member states is 1.9 billion [[iii]]. It accounts for a substantial share of Muslim population. India was invited to the first summit by Morocco on Saudi Arabia’s suggestion, fifty years back in 1969, but the invitation was later withdrawn due to strong opposition from Pakistan and issues associated with Kashmir[[iv]]. India is neither a member nor an observer with the OIC [[v]]. It is noted that even countries with less Muslim population are members of this organisation which also includes Russia and Thailand as observer states in OIC [[vi]]. India chose not to influence any of its strategic partners in the region for the membership and hence did not pursue for it. However, Qatar in 2002 proposed Observer status for India in recognition to its Muslim population but Pakistan has constantly blocked the move. Bilaterally, India’s proximity in economic and diplomatic terms in the region especially with UAE and Saudi Arabia has strengthened over the years.

Interestingly, this is the first time India has been formally invited to an OIC summit. The invitation could be perceived as a result of India’s Diplomatic engagement with countries in the Muslim world in the past decade or so. However, this platform was seen as an opportunity to expand India’s diplomatic and strategic relations including the regional interest in broadening India’s West Asia policy. India’s prime concern is security in all dimensions. The pertaining tensions between India and Pakistan should be addressed with emphasis on latter’s escalating cross border terrorism and unethical international violations. It is clear that majority of the members of OIC have commendable economic and diplomatic relations with India -which has naturally brought the latter to Abu Dhabi. Despite being a vital member state, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister boycotted the summit’s inaugural session on India’s invitation [[vii]]. The Pakistan delegation was represented by diplomats and ambassadors to UAE and Saudi Arabia. The Pakistani delegation – in the later sessions – brought the Kashmir issue including humans rights violations into the forum, tried lobbying against India but majority of the members refrained believing that this is not the right platform to express a distasteful statement especially on the invited  ‘Guest of Honour’ [[viii]]. Even though India was invited as a keynote speaker for the first time at OIC, it is disappointing that the Abu Dhabi declaration did not express a simple appreciation for the ‘Guest of Honour’ and non-inclusion on the terrorist activities [[ix]]. Perhaps, the wave of an Indian diplomatic win is conclusive only to an extent.

‘Guest of Honour’ – A Goodwill Gesture

India’s proximity towards the two conservative Islamic monarchies, UAE and Saudi Arabia, are crucial. India has been receiving support from these countries in the recent past in other international organisations. The visit of Saudi Prince Mohammed Bin-Salman Bin-Abdulaziz Al-Saud (MBS) to India [[x]] in February is very significant to this context. It is also duly noted that business level India- Arab League meetings are held on a biennial basis- once in India and the next in an Arab state- expanding relations in economic terms and cooperation with the region [[xi]]. In addition to this, the first foreign ministerial level India-Arab League summit was to be held at New Delhi earlier this year but it has been postponed due to rescheduling conflicts among the members of the organisation [[xii]]. India’s invitation to OIC summit as a ‘Guest of Honour’; and instant acceptance proclaims an indication of its importance in the region and vice-versa. India’s invitation was considered mainly because it is home to millions of Muslims and its stature in the international political arena. Pakistan being a significant member of this 57 member organisation was the lone opposition to India’s invitation. Even though Pakistan considers OIC as its backyard, it boycotted the inaugural session; tried lobbying against India in the latter sessions of the summit but failed miserably to convince the other influential members of the organisation.

India’s Foreign Minister, Sushma Swaraj at the 46th OIC Summit, Abu Dhabi delivered a strong statement- “If we want to save humanity, we must tell the states who provide shelter and funding to terrorists, to dismantle the infrastructure of the terrorist camps and stop providing funding shelter and funding to the terror organisations based in that country” [[xiii]]. She added “Terrorism and extremism bear different names and labels. It uses diverse causes. But in each case, it is driven by distortion of religion, and a misguided belief in its power to succeed” [[xiv]]. Again quoting her,” I come from land of Mahatma Gandhi where every prayer ends with call for ‘shanti’ that is peace for all. I convey our best wishes, support & solidarity in your quest for stability, peace, harmony, economic growth & prosperity for your people & world” [[xv]]. The robust statement from India’s External Affairs Minister was indirectly on Pakistan and their terrorism promotion. However, Pakistan’s boycott and lobbying against India went in vain as significant players of the organisation dismissed the proposed opposition; this proves the fact that India possesses potential diplomatic relations in the Muslim world. Hence, this illustrates India’s growing strategic and diplomatic importance in the regional arena.

Thinking to Linking West

Counter-Terrorism and diplomatic relations will not go hand in hand. Peace has been India’s motto and among the subsets of India’s Foreign Policy. India has always maintained a cordial relation with the nations in the region and the civilisational connect plays a credible role in linking West Asia. Large number of Indian migrants work in the region; it has directly influenced the growth of the economies in the region vis-a-vis India in the form of foreign exchange. Oil has been the primary economic link between the south Asian giant and the gulf. India’s increasing influence in the region alienates Pakistan in major inter-institutional meets. The Diplomatic win-win situation for India is to be assessed in the context of its pressing pressures on all its strategic partners and friends. The invitation as a ‘Guest of Honour’ in that sense is strategic and convincing to portray India as a reliable partner and flourishing economy in the future.



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[[ii]]“10 Countries With the Largest Muslim Populations, 2010 and 2050”. Pew Research Centre. 2 April 2015. Retrieved on 11 March, 2019:
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[[xiv]]  ibid
[[xv]]  ibid
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Vishakh Krishnan Valiathan is a Research Assistant at the Centre for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS), New Delhi. He holds an MPhil in International Relations from University of Madras, Chennai. His MPhil Thesis was titled ‘India- Israel Relations: An Analytical Study with Reference to Defence Industry and Equipment Trade Since 1992’. He also has a Master’s in Politics and International Relations from the Department of Politics and International Studies, Pondicherry University (a Central University) and a Bachelor’s in Economics from Mar Ivanios College (Autonomous), University of Kerala, Thiruvananthapuram. Prior to CLAWS, he has interned with Middle East Institute at New Delhi ([email protected]), Regional Centre for Expertise Acknowledged by United Nations University- Trivandrum and National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS), Bengaluru. His research-oriented areas include West Asia, South Asia, Central Asia, India’s Foreign Policy, Energy Security, Economy and Strategic Cooperation.