NEW DELHI: The Indian government has welcomed a “milestone” invitation for it to attend a high-profile meeting of foreign ministers of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in the UAE.
India will be the “guest of honor” at the 46th session of the OIC’s Council of Foreign Ministers to be held in Abu Dhabi on March 1-2.
And New Delhi has described its acceptance back into the OIC fold after nearly 50 years as a significant development in moves to strengthen relations with its Muslim-majority neighbors.
“We see this invitation as the desire of the enlightened leadership of the UAE to go beyond our rapidly growing close bilateral ties and forge a true multifaceted partnership at the multilateral and international level,” said a statement issued by India’s Ministry of External Affairs (MEA).
This is “a milestone in our comprehensive strategic partnership with the UAE. We also see this invitation as a welcome recognition of the presence of 185 million Muslims in India and of their contribution to its pluralistic ethos, and of India’s contribution to the Islamic world,” added the statement.
India was first invited to attend the Islamic Summit Conference in Rabat, Morocco in 1969, but the invitation was rescinded on the insistence of Pakistan. Since then, the South Asian republic has shared a sour relationship with the OIC and has not, until now, been invited back.
“The friendly country of India has been named as the guest of honor in view of its great global political stature as well as its time-honored and deeply rooted cultural and historical legacy, and its important Islamic component,” a statement issued in Abu Dhabi announcing the foreign ministers’ meeting said.
The UAE’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan will inaugurate the session in the presence of OIC Secretary-General Dr. Yousef Al-Othaimeen and representatives of 56 member states and five observer states.
“This is a very significant development. It is very dramatic and a diplomatic triumph for India and the Indian leadership,” said Talmiz Ahmad, former Indian ambassador to Saudi Arabia and a prominent expert on West Asia.
“It brings India into the mainstream of the Islamic world. India belongs to this mainstream based on its history, civilization and culture.”
Ahmad told Arab News that “there has been considerable discussion behind the scenes between Indian leaders and diplomats and their counterparts in the major Muslim countries, particularly the UAE and Saudi Arabia. I think this (the OIC invitation) is the result of these efforts. India’s engagement with the OIC will add significance to the conference.
“The message is very clear. This is a very big setback to Pakistan’s attempt to misuse the OIC to criticize India. They have been doing it since the 1990s. Their resolutions have been extremely venomous. Finally, the OIC has realized that this misuse of the important platform should stop,” added the former diplomat.