The Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) completed 40 years of its existence . It was set up in Rabat, Morocco on September 25, 1969, in reaction to an arson attack on Al-Aqsa Mosque on August 21, 1969, in Al-Quds, carried out by an Israeli. The meeting was the first unified expression of the Muslim Ummah of its determination to safeguard its interests, speak with one voice and ensure the progress and well being of the Muslims in the world.
It took an organised shape in March 1970, setting up a secretariat in Jeddah and appointing a secretary-general as its head. Two years later, a charter was adopted demonstrating that the OIC’s purpose was to strengthen solidarity and cooperation among Islamic states in all fields.
OIC members represent 22 per cent of the world population, have two per cent of the world’s GDP, 1.3 per cent of the world trade and only 1.5 per cent of the investments. Twenty five per cent of OIC population does not have access to medical facilities or safe drinking water.
Half of the population lives below the poverty line classified as the most poor. No Muslim country is in the top list of the Human Development Index or in any other global economic indicators.
This depressing picture of the Islamic countries is not limited to the economic and social spheres, in the realm of education and technology the facts are equally disappointing.
The OIC member countries possess 70 per cent of the world’s energy resources and 40 per cent of available raw material but their GDP is only 5 per cent of the world GDP. Muslim countries miserably lag behind in education and technology.
They produce only 500 PhDs each year as compared to 3,000 in India and 5,000 in the United Kingdom. None of their educational or research institutions or centres of excellence find place in the top 100 in the world.
The last regular summit was held in Putrajaya, Malaysia, in 2003. Under the dynamic leadership of Mahathir Mohammad, the OIC’s performance was judged as unsatisfactory. He identified political inertia, economic underdevelopment, lack of democracy and unrepresentative governments as examples of the malaise afflicting the OIC.
The summit therefore, decided to craft a strategy to suggest reform and restructuring. A commission was set up to draw appropriate recommendations and a special summit was held at Makkah in December 2005 to examine these recommendations.
The Makkah Summit took stock of the OIC’s performance over the previous years and identified its weaknesses and shortcomings.
The Makkah summit made an intensive analysis and issued an ambitious plan of action for the next decade. However, as has been the history in the past, these summits and their declarations are long on promises and short on delivery.
The Makkah Declaration referred to the need for a ‘fresh vision’ to turn the tide in the face of the external threats that have helped exacerbate the Ummah’s current plight and called for a plan for the future of the Ummah. The summit urged the member states to ‘focus on good governance, wider political participation, establish rule of law, protect human rights, apply social justice, transparency, fight corruption and build civil society institutions’.
The OIC today has 57 Muslim member-states and has held 10 summits in response to the challenges confronting the Muslim world. Since its establishment, the Islamic world has suffered five major catastrophes which have reduced it to almost a non-factor in international politics.
The break up of Pakistan through armed intervention by India in 1971 , the invasion of Lebanon by Israel in 1982, the Iran-Iraq war, Soviet intervention in Afghanistan and the US occupation of Iraq, have dealt a mortal blow to the unity, dignity and sovereignty of the Muslim world.
The OIC has failed to respond meaningfully to any of these crises or demonstrate any unity of thought and action apart from issuing high-sounding declarations at the end of each summit. Nothing was done to contain the crises or avert the tragedies. The OIC remained merely a silent spectator.
The Muslim world has abjectly failed to grasp the demands and requirements of the 21st century. The absolute need to introduce and embrace modern technology has not dawned on its leaders, reflecting their distressing intellectual poverty.
Pakistan’s suggestion to establish a multi-billion dollar fund for the promotion of science and technology did not receive support from the GCC countries, who alone could establish or run this multi-faceted fund.
Pakistan has made some extremely useful proposals to lift the Islamic world out of its present dilemmas.
The suggestions related to: (i) an institutional mechanism for conflict prevention and resolution with member states; (II) a network of centres of excellence in science and technology; (iii) establishment of a permanent forum of Islamic thought to provide guidance and opinion; (iv) allocation of adequate financial resources to implement these proposals; (v) allocation of at least 0.5 per cent of the GDP by the member states for implementing OIC objectives; and (vi) a dedicated department in the OIC secretariat for promoting intra-OIC trade.
The OIC has set up a number of institutions to help in capacity building, knowledge networking in areas of knowledge-driven economy, trade and investments, ICT, quality and productivity, sustainable development, governance and poverty alleviation but to date have no achievement to their credit.
Unless OIC members are willing to face the present challenges boldly and demonstrate political will to assert their role in the world affairs, the OIC will continue to fail its members. The current crisis between the West and the world of Islam is yet another opportunity for the OIC to prove its relevance by playing a constructive role by building bridges through an informed dialogue between Islam and other faiths.
By Tayyab Siddiqui [The writer is a former ambassador] Courtesy Dawn: Sunday, 04 Oct, 2009: http://www.dawn.com/wps/wcm/connect/dawn-content-library/dawn/news/world/04-40-years-of-failure-qs-09