Besieged Kashmiris and regional experts want the Muslim bloc to take a proactive role in resolving one of the oldest disputes since World War II.

The Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC), a 57-member bloc envisioned for the empowerment of majority-Muslim countries, has earned the reputation of being a "toothless tiger" or a "tiger unable to hunt." Its statements are rejected by non-members without consequences, while its members have been slammed for undermining its foundations.

It recently waded in on the Kashmir dispute, but it served to once again shine a spotlight on its shortcomings. It released a strongly-worded statement on Monday rejecting India's abrogation of Kashmir's semi-autonomy. It also called on India to "halt abuses" in the disputed region, and revived an old debate over the efficiency of the Islamic bloc, and whether it should move beyond its "customary" statements on the question of Kashmir.

"We [Kashmiris] expect a lot from OIC," said Muhammad Ashraf Mattoo, a familiar figure in India-administered Kashmir, who's been fighting a legal battle for ten years to get the killers of his lone son punished.  

A resident of the region's main Srinagar city,  Mattoo marked the tenth anniversary of his son's killing this month. His decade-long gruelling search for justice has become a symbolic representation of India's judicial failure in the disputed region. 

"They (OIC members) appear to have opened their eyes only after Pakistan's Imran Khan highlighted the Kashmir dispute in his UN speech last year," he told TRT World.

His son, Tufail Mattoo, was killed instantly when police shot teargas shells that hit the then 11-year-old school boy in the head. The incident sparked months-long civil unrest against New Delhi's rule in the region. The massive 2010 protests lead to the killings of over 120 Kashmiris and the wounding of thousands of protesters and bystanders.   

Although Mattoo has not achieved any breakthrough in the Indian courts, he refuses to give up. The grief caused as a result of the death of his son, as well as the years he has spent seeking justice, has taken a significant physical toll on Mattoo. He has noticeably aged, his hair now white, and his body weak.

"Look at me. I am single-handedly fighting the state because my case is based on truth. Why can't OIC pursue Kashmir's case with full vigor?"

Pakistani protesters gathered on the highway where leaders of the Islamic countries pass on their way to attend the OIC meeting in Islamabad on March 22, 1997. They are holding banners that are critical of India's human rights abuse in Kashmir.
Pakistani protesters gathered on the highway where leaders of the Islamic countries pass on their way to attend the OIC meeting in Islamabad on March 22, 1997. They are holding banners that are critical of India's human rights abuse in Kashmir. (AP)

Kashmir in OIC

The OIC was formed in 1969 to protect the interests of the Muslim world. That year, Pakistan ensured that India was evicted from the first OIC conference in Morocco. It was in 1990 that a summit of the OIC's council of foreign ministers slammed India for using force against Kashmiris, and called for "self-determination" of the Kashmiri people.

In 1994, the bloc formed an OIC contact group on Kashmir, including powerful members such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan. Azerbaijan and Niger also make up part of this key group.

In the same year, Iran torpedoed a move by the Muslim bloc to table a resolution at the UN against India.

On May 31 last year, the OIC appointed Yousef Aldobeay of Saudi Arabia, an assistant secretary general of the organisation, as a special envoy for Kashmir during the 14th summit held in Mecca.

The OIC has condemned human rights violations in Kashmir, as well as the abrogation of Kashmir's semi-autonomy and the newly-introduced domicile laws that allow non-Kashmiris to take jobs and buy properties in the disputed Himalayan territory. But it has never deterred India from carrying out its actions in the region.    

India maintains the group has no locus standi on Kashmir, and often rejects its statements.

In fact, under the current right-wing government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, India has not only secured strong ties with the powerful and oil-rich OIC states, it was invited by the UAE to attend the OIC's foreign ministers' meeting in March last year. This angered Pakistan.

India labelled this a major diplomatic victory given that it was the first such OIC invite for New Delhi in five decades. Pakistan boycotted the event in protest. A day later, the organisation condemned India's "terrorism" and "mass blindings" in Kashmir. 

India's cessation of Kashmir's limited-autonomy last August, which included a full communications ban, was backed by the UAE. The Gulf country said it was an internal matter for India to handle, though its sentiment did subsequently change. Afghanistan, another OIC member and Indian ally, sent its envoy to Kashmir in a guided tour arranged by New Delhi to portray normalcy in the region.

A divided house  

"Unfortunately, OIC has lost the meaning for which it was established. It no longer supports Muslim causes courageously," the former Pakistani diplomat, Abdul Basit, told TRT World.

Basit explained that the OIC’s most recent statement does not signify that all OIC states subscribe to its position, adding that the bloc has been reluctant to hold foreign ministers' meetings on Kashmir as requested by Pakistan.

India's clout has increased among OIC states, he said, and that Pakistan has not been doing its homework properly.

"Pakistan should have appointed a special envoy on Kashmir. It should have appointed a plebiscite advisor. It should have vigorously backed the political and armed resistance of Kashmiris for the right to self-determination. Such resistances are enshrined in UN resolutions."

Some Kashmiris have also begun to invoke the OIC's dealing of Myanmar earlier this year after Gambia, at the behest of OIC, brought the case against Myanmar before the International Court of Justice in The Hague.

"If OIC can go out of the way to take a strong action for Rohingya Muslims, why is it reluctant to back Kashmiris with the same passion?" a Kashmiri rights campaigner, who wished not to be named, told TRT World.

"Nearly half a million Kashmiris have been killed since 1947, do we not deserve to get justice?"

Making of Bosnia

Kashmir, divided by a highly militarised de facto border, is claimed by both Pakistan and India who rule it in parts. In 1947, both countries gained independence from Britain.

Rebel groups in India-administered Kashmir have fought for decades for the region's independence, or a possible merger with Pakistan. They enjoy popular support.

Since 1989, the fighting has left tens of thousands dead, a number mostly made up of civilians. India has stationed more than 500,000 troops in the region.

Tensions soared again between the two nations last August, when the Indian government revoked Muslim-majority Kashmir's decades-old semi-autonomous status. This caused anger inside Kashmir as well as in Pakistan.

The OIC and Pakistan want the changes reversed. Kashmiris say India plans to enact a demographic change in the region by settling Hindu outsiders. 

But India, by making it easy for non-locals to stay in the disputed territory, and recently allowing the extraction of minerals by Indian companies, appears to be successfully deflecting all sorts of pressures.

With these fresh moves by New Delhi, critics say the Kashmir dispute is no longer a case about the right to self-determination alone.

"Previously, the issue was exclusively pertaining to the right to self-determination of Kashmiris. Now, New Delhi has brazenly created a legal framework for transformation of Muslim demography of Kashmir through settlements of non-local Hindus. It has now become an issue of existence of Kashmiris," political analyst and Kashmir-affairs expert Sheikh Showkat told TRT World.

"If not addressed immediately, Kashmir may turn out to be another Bosnia or Palestine. So, mere statements by OIC don't suffice to deal with the situation emerging in Kashmir."

Palestine-type recognition

Britain-based Kashmiri lawyer, Mirza Saib Beg, said that sooner or later, the OIC should take a firm stand on what it intends to do in cases "where the errant country is not a member of the OIC, and the errant country is not responding to statements of condemnation."

He said the OIC must incorporate the need for resolution in its charter like it has done for Palestine.

Beg said the Islamic bloc's charter refers to Palestine four times, but it makes no mention of Kashmir. The support given to Palestine also happens to be termed in an unambiguous way in the preamble, as well as in Article 1, Clause 8 using terms like: "… the Palestinian people…are presently under foreign occupation", "right to self-determination," and "to establish their sovereign state."

An assistant secretary general, who is devoted to the cause of Al Quds and Palestine, has been created as per Article 18, Clause 1 of the OIC charter.

"No such post is devoted to the cause of Kashmir. At this point it is essential to add that this is not a comparison of oppression in Palestine and in Kashmir but rather to highlight differential treatment, for reasons undisclosed," the Kashmiri lawyer said.

He said the OIC contact group must be expanded with Kashmiris given an official space "to present our grievance on our own terms."

Baba Umar contributed reporting.

Source: TRT World