Since the Indian government revoked the special status of Jammu and Kashmir, the country’s sole Muslim-majority state (68.31%), the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) has made regular calls for restraint and for India to ensure the protection of the rights of Kashmiris and their religious freedom. It has also asked the international community to push for a settlement of the dispute according to relevant UN Security Council resolutions.
The OIC, known as a collective voice of the Muslim world, has expressed its concern in the past over atrocities in Kashmir and appointed a special envoy for that purpose. However, India has always rejected OIC interference, calls the Kashmir issue an internal matter and, if there are bilateral discussions, they are with Pakistan alone.
India never takes the OIC seriously because it knows very well the limitations of this forum and the lack of consensus among the member countries in dealing with the Kashmir issue. India understands that major resolutions in the OIC are passed under the influence of its rival Pakistan, whereas the governments of other South Asian OIC members such as Bangladesh, Maldives and Afghanistan have no objection in the abrogation of the special status of J&K, considering it an internal matter.
Malaysia has adopted a moderate approach in line with the OIC, but Turkey has assured Pakistan of its steadfast support on Kashmir. However, most of the OIC countries have friendly relations with India at the bilateral level and believe that Kashmir is a matter of region rather than religion.
India also plays down OIC objections because of its members’ vast mutually beneficial economic interests with India, specifically the countries in the Persian Gulf region. The OIC countries fulfill 82% of India’s requirement of petroleum products, while in turn they import food items and electronic goods from India.
According to statistics released by the Indian Ministry of Commerce for the year 2018, India’s trade with OIC countries stood at US$262 billion, comprising $91 billion worth of exports and imports of $172 billion. The United Arab Emirates consistently ranks as India’s top trade partner, while other countries in the Gulf region also have a substantial share, constituting around 31.25% of India’s total trade.
The value of bilateral investment between India with OIC countries is $3.352 billion, comprising an inflow of $802 million and outflow of $2.55 billion worth of investment during the aforementioned period.
Gulf countries, a major source of remittance inflows to India, host a large population of Indian migrant workers who fulfill the need for skilled and unskilled labor to complete their infrastructural and industrial projects.
Meanwhile, South Asian members of the OIC have more benefits associated with India compared with Pakistan for geopolitical reasons.
For commercial and geopolitical reasons, some OIC member states have adopted different viewpoints to the organization’s official stance on Kashmir. The UAE ambassador to India was the first to defend New Delhi’s right to alter the special status of J&K for the good of socio-economic development in the Kashmir region. Amid the peak of condemnation by the OIC on the ongoing crisis in Kashmir, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the UAE and Bahrain and was honored with the highest civilian awards by both countries. Similarly, Saudi government-owned company Aramco signed a $75 billion deal in India with Reliance, a company known as a major source of funding for the ruling party, and it was the first to announce a task force for investment in Kashmir.
Because of such bilateral commercial ties with individual countries, India can overlook the OIC as long as Kashmir remains a regional dispute and is not converted into a religious affair. However, if the lockdown, communication blockage and use of excessive power against protesters continues much longer, it may trigger a humanitarian crisis and be widely labeled as a religiously inclined motive to subjugate Muslims.
Pakistan and some other OIC countries have categorized the continued crackdown in Kashmir as suppression of the Muslim community. This stance to link the issue Kashmir with Muslim rights has been strengthened by recent remarks by Donald Trump and some Indian politicians. Former Indian home minister P Chidambaram alleged that the special status of J&K was snatched away by muscle power because of religious fanaticism, and that the response could have been different if Kashmir were not a Muslim-dominated state; similarly, former federal minister Mani Shankar Aiyar compared Kashmir to Palestine.
Equating Kashmir with Palestine and India with Israel suggests that the scrapping of Article 370 of the constitution was a tool for the ethnic cleansing of Muslims and changing the demographic composition of J&K by colonizing it with Hindus from other parts of the country. Trump also warned that the Kashmir issue was complicated by the Hindu-Muslim dichotomy. Iran, a close partner of India, which earlier called Kashmir a bilateral issue between India and Pakistan, has now shown concern for Kashmiri Muslims in a tweet by its spiritual leader.
Once the Kashmir issue is internationalized as a religious affair, there could be an irreparable and unavoidable situation where individual countries discourse against the collective stand of the OIC on Kashmir. Such a catastrophe could unbalance India’s diplomatic and commercial equilibrium with the member countries of the OIC and could damage India’s image as a democratic and secular country globally. Large protests could be ramped up across the Muslim world to break the bilateral relations of their governments with India.
India is already struggling with a bad name over atrocities against minorities, which could deteriorate if the Kashmir issue is increasingly seen as a move to displace Muslims. India must mend its image globally and resolve the Kashmir issue earliest by negotiating with all stakeholders in the Kashmir Valley, and at least make sure it lifts the blockade quickly.