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Vying for influence over Kabul: OIC and Central Asian states

Context:

December 2021, Pakistan hosted a special session of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to address the crisis in Afghanistan.

Relevance:

GS-II: International Relations

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Why is there so much interest on Afghanistan?
  2. About the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC)
  3. Developments between Islamic nations on Afghanistan
  4. 2015 Strains in the Saudi – Pakistan Relationship
  5. Conclusion

Why is there so much interest on Afghanistan?

  • Afghanistan is sitting on mineral deposits estimated to be worth up to $3 trillion according to a a former mines minister of Afghanistan.
  • The country is probably home to what may be the world’s largest reserves of lithium – the key ingredient of the large-capacity lithium-ion batteries. Since, China dominates Lithium-Ion Battery Production worldwide, it may seek long-term a contract with the Taliban to develop Afghanistan’s massive untapped lithium reserves in return for mining rights and ownership arrangements.
  • Afghanistan is also rich in several other resources such as gold, oil, bauxite, rare earths, chromium, copper, natural gas, uranium, coal, iron ore, lead, zinc, gemstones, talc, sulphur, travertine, gypsum and marble.

About the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC)

  • The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation is an international organization founded in 1969, consisting of 57 member states, with a collective population of over 1.8 billion as of 2015 with 53 countries being Muslim-majority countries.
  • The organisation states that it is “the collective voice of the Muslim world” and works to “safeguard and protect the interests of the Muslim world in the spirit of promoting international peace and harmony”.
  • The OIC has permanent delegations to the United Nations and the European Union.
  • Some members, especially in West Africa and South America, are – though with large Muslim populations – not necessarily Muslim majority countries.
  • A few countries with significant Muslim populations, such as Russia and Thailand, sit as Observer States.

Developments between Islamic nations on Afghanistan

  • Pakistan hosted a special session of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to address the crisis in Afghanistan in which Taliban, which took over Kabul in August 2021 after a 20-year-long war with the U.S., also attended.
  • Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Pakistan were the only three countries that had officially recognised the previous Taliban government in 1996, until its fall in 2001.
  • In 2010s, Qatar became the mediating force on Afghanistan and hosted the official Taliban political office from 2013 to allow negotiations with the U.S.
  • In 2017, fissures such as the unease in the traditional power centres in Abu Dhabi and Riyadh due to Qatar’s growing clout and ambition, broke the levee within the Gulf Cooperation Council, as the UAE and Saudi Arabia initiated an economic blockade against Doha in the hope of reigning the Kingdom in and disallowing it from pursuing its geopolitical designs that were challenging the long-held power status quos. This four-year long impasse ended in 2021.

Post OIC meeting in 2021

  • The centrality of Saudi Arabia’s presence during the 2021 OIC session comes after Riyadh maintained a certain distance over the developments involving the U.S., the Taliban and the erstwhile Afghan government of President Ashraf Ghani.
  • Qatar’s new role on Afghanistan gave it significant diplomatic and political visibility the world over.
  • Both Qatar and Turkey are bidding to operate a landlocked Afghanistan’s airports under the Taliban regime.
  • Saudis played a central role during the recent OIC – repaired their broken relationship with Pakistan, where Riyadh had repeatedly cold-shouldered the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan.

2015 Strains in the Saudi – Pakistan Relationship

  • When, in 2015, Saudi Arabia asked Pakistan to join the coalition it was leading to undertake the ground offensive in Yemen against the Iran-backed Houthis, Islamabad refused and let it be known that it would prefer to stand “neutral” in the Iran-Saudi rivalry.
  • The decision was taken keeping in mind the possible implications of joining the coalition on domestic politics and on bilateral relations with Iran.
  • The Saudi-Iran conflict in West Asia has serious ramifications for Pakistan’s relationship with Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia sees Iranian involvement and growing salience in regional politics as a threat to its security.
  • Pakistan, for its part, is worried about India’s improving relations with West Asian countries in general and Saudi Arabia in particular. While Pakistan wants to maintain a delicate balance between Saudi Arabia and Iran, the Saudis are not happy with this balancing game and want Pakistan to support them.

Conclusion

  • The Arab Gulf is poised to become an important player once again in an Afghanistan under the shadow of the Taliban.
  • Over the past decade, India has recognised the importance of middle powers in the Arab Gulf to a fast-evolving global order, from fighting against terrorism to newer diplomacy challenges such as Afghanistan.
  • Individually, India has good relations with almost all member nations of the OIC and the ties with the UAE and Saudi Arabia, especially, have improved significantly in recent years – India can use the untroubled nature of these relations to protect its interests within and in Afghanistan.

-Source: The Hindu

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