Shahid M Amin
THE Pakistani people have a deep attachment to the concept of Islamic solidarity. They hold the belief that Muslims constitute an Ummah, an Arabic word meaning “community”, not merely a nation but a supra-national community with a common history. The Holy Quran says “Muslims are an Ummah” and urges them “to hold firm to the rope of Allah all together and do not become divided”. A famous verse of Allama Iqbal appeals to Muslims to become one from the shore of the Nile in Egypt to Kashgar in Central Asia. Pakistan’s constitution requires the State to strengthen bonds of unity among Islamic nations.
There is no doubt that immediately after gaining independence in 1947, Pakistan championed Muslim causes all over the world. Even before the emergence of Israel, Pakistan was a leading voice in support of the Palestinians and Arabs. Foreign Minister Chaudhry Zafarullah Khan won the hearts of the Arabs through his bold advocacy of the Palestinian cause at UN and elsewhere. As a gesture of solidarity with the Palestinians, Pakistan has never recognised Israel, even though Arab countries like Egypt have normalized relations with it. Similarly, Pakistan played a leading role in the struggle for independence of Muslim nations in North Africa viz. Morocco, Algeria, Libya and Tunisia, as also Sudan, Somalia and Eritrea. It extended support to Indonesia, Bosnia and Kosovo in their struggle for independence. It played a crucial role in support of the Afghan jihad against Soviet military occupation.
However, Pakistan has not received as much support from Muslim States for its causes, notably Kashmir, as it expected. In the early years, Muslim States were more sympathetic but now open support on Kashmir is confined only to Turkey and Azerbaijan. Iran’s support for Pakistan on Kashmir issue ended since about 1993 when it opted to draw closer towards India. For some time, Pakistan’s traditional allies like Saudi Arabia and Gulf States have also chosen to remain silent on the subject. There has been no instance when crowds in Palestine or in any Muslim State have come out on the streets in support of Muslims in Kashmir, even though India has unleashed a reign of terror against Kashmiri protestors for the past two years. No doubt, in Indo-Pakistan Wars of 1965 and 1971, most Muslim countries had supported Pakistan but since then, in the last forty years, they have established closer relations with India and prefer to remain silent even when India assumes a hostile posture towards Pakistan. Similarly, when US President Trump recently used threatening language towards Pakistan, alleging that Pakistan was providing sanctuaries to Afghan militants, Turkey was the only Muslim country to speak up for Pakistan. National interest rather than ideology or principles evidently motivates these Muslim States.
It can be argued that OIC (Organization of Islamic Cooperation) has all along passed Resolutions supporting the Kashmiris in their struggle for liberation from Indian yoke. But, unfortunately, OIC Resolutions are not implemented and remain just so many words. By their practice, OIC member States have shown that they do not consider themselves bound by its Resolutions. In effect, they treat OIC as a kind of sideshow, or a debating forum, where Muslim States get together periodically to pay lip service to Muslim solidarity. This is a poor reflection on the Muslim world. The OIC has over fifty member States or more than one-fourth of UN membership. It includes the leading oil-exporting countries of the world. If these countries exercise their power, they can cripple world economy. The Muslim world is a solid landmass from Morocco in the west to Indonesia in the east. Five out of six of the world’s main waterways lie in Muslim countries: Persian Gulf, Suez Canal, Bosporus, Malacca and Gibraltar: only Panama Canal is outside the Muslim world. Several Muslim countries have strong military forces viz. Turkey, Iran, Egypt, Indonesia and Pakistan, which also is the only Muslim state with nuclear capability. Together, these countries do have the capacity to act as an influential bloc.
But the unfortunate fact is that the Muslim world is presently deeply divided. The most notable division is in the Middle East where Saudi Arabia and Iran are engaged in a virtual cold war, and treating each other as rivals if not enemies. Sadly their rivalry has acquired a sectarian character with the old Shia-Sunni rift becoming a polarizing conflict. They are using proxies to fight with each other in Syria and Yemen and elsewhere in the Middle East. The latest rift between Qatar and Saudi Arabia is even more astonishing since both are ethnically similar and subscribe to the same Wahhabist ideology. Palestinians are divided between mainstream PLO and the extremist Hamas. Turkey has bad relations with Egypt and Syria. Pakistan has even worse relations with Afghanistan and Bangladesh.
Under these circumstances, it is understandable as to why the OIC is impotent: an organization cannot be effective when it is divided from within. Another reason for the weakness of Muslim world is that we do not have at present leaders of the stature of Faisal or Nasser or Mahathir. Turkey’s Erdogan is the only effective Muslim leader at this time but he is at times much too combative. What the Muslim world needs to realise is that it faces grave challenges posed by powerful enemies of Muslim unity like US, India and Israel. The present unhappy state of the Muslim world will end only when its rulers develop a strategic vision of a common cause, rise above petty differences, and unite to face existential challenges.
— The writer served as Pakistan’s Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Soviet Union, France, Nigeria and Libya.