On 21 August 1969, an Australian set fire to the pulpit of the Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, Islam’s third holiest site. This sparked outrage across the Muslim world and laid the seeds for the formation of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation. Formally launched at a conference in Morocco in September the same year with 30 members, the organisation today has 57 states, making it the second largest inter-governmental body after the UN. Its original charter, which was focused on Muslim solidarity, protecting Islamic holy sites and supporting the cause of Palestine, has now expanded to many issues including counter-terrorism.
At the request of King Faisal of Saudi Arabia and seconded by the King of Morocco, it was decided at the last minute to invite India for the founding conference. Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed, a senior minister in Indira Gandhi’s Cabinet, left Delhi to attend the meet. However, on the day the Indian delegation arrived, there were reports of anti-Muslim riots in Ahmedabad, and Pakistan, represented by military ruler Yahya Khan, demanded the Indian team be barred. After lodging strong formal protests, the Indian delegation left.
Since then, Pakistan has used the platform to launch virulent attacks on India, particularly over Kashmir. But this year, that historic wrong was corrected when, overruling vehement Pakistani opposition, the OIC invited External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj to attend the outfit’s foreign ministers’ conclave in Abu Dhabi as a “guest of honour”. Pakistan’s Foreign Minister S M Qureshi refused to attend the first session in protest. Subsequently, Pakistan managed to push through resolutions that condemned “Indian atrocities” in Kashmir and “cross-border belligerence”. However, Kashmir was not mentioned in the final communiqué, the only document adopted by all the 57-member nations. With the second largest Muslim population in the world, India deserves a place in the OIC. And despite Pakistan’s objections, the other members appear to be slowly aligning with that idea.