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Diplomacy

Contributing to a Safer, Healthier and Prosperous World: OIC and its Rapid Reaction Capacitation

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Authors: Amb. Ali Goutali and Prof. Anis H. Bajrektarevic

All throughout its history, our world witnessed either abrupt, radical changes or gradual shifts and adjustments of the World Oder. Such recalibrations usually followed major crises, be it devastating wars or geopolitical transformations such as the end of Cold War.

Past the agricultural and industrial revolutions, numerous advances in knowledge, science and technology, as well as groundbreaking inventions opened up new avenues for progress and prosperity of mankind. Subsequent scientific and technological revolution of our age, coupled with the relaxation of ideological confrontation and longing for cooperation and integration, led to the emergence of a politically and economically globalized World.

However, our current World Order of fully interconnected planet has revealed some weaknesses and vulnerabilities, particularly in time of crises.

In the Era of Globalization, the worldwide interconnected financial and economic system can cause a financial crisis spill-over effect very rapidly – as we witnessed it decade ago. Similarly, a health crisis in one country can, owing to the same business interconnection and swift human mobility, spread at light speed to other countries and continents, engulfing the whole World.

Currently,COVID-19 (C-19) pandemic is wreaking havoc across the Globe, causing most countries to be primarily focused on solving the crisis and limiting its damage.

Global opportunity – global exposure

Though some breakthroughs have been achieved such as finding the genetic sequence of the virus and developing diagnostic tests, no confirmed vaccines or efficient treatments have been found yet. Moreover, much more clues remain to be gathered and understood, including the virus transmission and mutation dynamics, its potential re-emergence in waves, where did it come from and whether environmental or seasonal factors impact its spread and severity.

In search for rapid and efficient solutions, countries (particularly developed ones) have been working restlessly but individually almost to no avail. This could be explained by an impulse of an ‘old spirit’; of geopolitical competition in the past – times when the narrow national interest was the main and only driver of any international conduct.

The same lack of coordination among individual countries in dealing with this unprecedented crisis that encompasses almost every dimension including health, economic and financial aspects of life,has also been noticed at the level of political international organizations.

In fact,while the international economic and financial institutions seem to be well globalized and functioning efficiently, the political structure of the World looks like the one still based on the Nation-States competition and rivalry.The existing political international FORAs, made up of these States, seem to be too bureaucratic to react swiftly and efficiently in times of imminent crises.

The post-C-19 World Order will most likely remain the same, Westphalian and globalized Order. However,in light of the aforementioned shortfalls and given the future daunting challenges, this World Order needs to be updated and enriched.

International violence has overtime dropped significantly. Full-scale conventional wars do not exist anymore whereas small-scale ones have come to an all-time low.

It is true that there are still nuclear weapons in the World enough to wipe out the entire Humankind multiple times over. However, the Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD)doctrine coupled with Wisdom, have been and will most likely remain as a powerful deterrent to any nuclear war attempts.

Not so long ago, our World was on a brink of nuclear self-annihilation, but found enough wisdom to avoid it.

The same wisdom can be used in the face of the current and future threats of annihilation by terrifying viruses similar to or more dangerous than C-19, which is heralding a new age of threats to Humankind’s  existence, disruptions and partial or total lockdowns never seen or tested before.

To meet such challenges, the World should be more united and cooperative, set aside geostrategic competition, give way to humane-oriented and servant leadership, avoid narrow national interest-oriented approach, put more focus on science and new technologies – of course all under democratic control. This includes decisive investments in innovative technologies, particularly frontier technologies.

To meet those, specific global and regional instruments, and mechanisms to endorse and facilitate exchange for better joint political action and all-out scientific cooperation in time of crises, should be also created.

OIC and the need for its RRC mechanism

The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) – the second largest intergovernmental multilateral mechanism to the one of OUN, places high value on Science and Technology in its daily works, and keenly promotes cooperation among its member States in this area. It was almost 40 years ago that the OIC set up its Committee on Scientific and Technological Cooperation (COMSTECH of 1981).

This functional entity of the OIC has been headquartered in Islamabad, with the President of Pakistan as its Chair.It has as objective to strengthen cooperation among OIC member states and enhance their capabilities in emerging technologies.

COMSTECH collaborates with numerous Specialised international bodies (of technical mandates), including World Health Organization (WHO), International Foundation for Science in Stockholm and the World Academy of Sciences (TWAS), to name but few.

In 2006,a new Institution was created within COMSTECH Secretariat in Islamabad, namely the Science, Technology and Innovation Centre (STI).This Center serves as a Think-tank to provide all-advisory services to OIC member states on science-technology-innovation, to conduct its own indigenous researches and ensure capacity building in this area for OIC members.

In 2017,a further step was taken towards fostering cooperation in Science and Technology among OIC States and making headway in this area, as the first Summit on Science and Technology was held in Astana, Kazakhstan.

In view of looming C-19 crisis and its devastating aftermath, OIC – currently pursuing a comprehensive reform Agenda – would benefit from considering even bolder new steps, such as setting up an Instrument for policy coordination in times of crisis. Certainly, every crisis is a hardship, but it also brings opportunity and novel openings. Hence, it might be a Rapid Reaction Capacitation (RRC)in the event of new type/s of asymmetric challenges.

Such RRC will be embodied in a platform for the exchange of expertise among leading scientists in Islamic countries – notably, a Center for Epidemics Prevention and Management (EPM). Part of that RRC-capacitated EPM Center would be also a division for vaccines research and production, supported by one for the applied AI (Artificial Intelligence). Since the capacity of early warning and rapid reaction would be essential, this Center and its divisions ought to be preferably situated physically closer to the OIC HQ.

By doing so, OIC would strengthen ties of cooperation in various fields, including scientific research within and among its Member States, but also with the variety of international and regional organizations and the Specialized Agencies. Thus, the EPM Center would serve as a liaison between the OIC world and similar regional or national Epidemic Prevention and Vaccination centres. As the grand wiz of early European integrations, Jean Monnet, used to say: “Crises are the great unifier!”

Geographic, demographic and geo-economic centrality of the OIC world makes it focally important for any planetary issue. OIC also represents an important voting block within the United Nations system (Bretton Woods institutions and the G-20, too). Therefore, the faster and better crisis responsive OIC clearly translates into the safer and brighter, sustainable world for our common future. 

Amb. Ali Goutali, Tunisian top diplomat, serving numerous key posts on four continents, former Head of the national diplomatic institute. Author of several publications including a book on decision making in foreign policy. Current Director at the OIC General Secretariat in Jeddah, KSA.

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Diplomacy

Biden-Putting meeting: Live from Geneva

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19:00 The places of the flags on the Mont Blanc bridge on which President Biden and President Putin will pass to reach the meeting venue on Wednesday usually hold the flags of the different Swiss cantons. Not today. The American and Russian flags have been placed to welcome the two leaders. 

18:00 A day before the Geneva summit: Hotel Intercontinental where the American delegation and probably President Biden himself is staying, how the city looks like a day before the meeting, what are the security measures like, why isn’t the UN involved and are the usual protests expected?

Iveta Cherneva with live video political commentary from Geneva one day ahead of the Biden-Putin Summit

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Diplomacy

Will the promotion of cricket in GCC add to its Soft Power?

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In recent years, Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, have been trying to bolster their ‘Soft Power’ in a number of ways; by promoting tourism, tweaking their immigration policies to attract more professionals and foreign students and focusing on promoting art and culture. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has taken the lead in this direction (in May 2017, UAE government set up a UAE Soft Power Council which came up with a comprehensive strategy for the promotion of the country’s Soft Power). Under Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman (MBS), Saudi Arabia has also been seeking to change its international image, and it’s Vision 2030 seeks to look beyond focusing on economic growth. In the Global Soft Power Index 2021, Saudi Arabia was ranked at number 24 and number 2 in the Gulf region after the UAE (the country which in the past had a reputation for being socially conservative, has hosted women’s sports events and also hosted the G20 virtually last year)

Will the promotion of cricket in GCC add to its Soft Power?

   One other important step in the direction of promoting Soft Power in the GCC, is the attempt to popularize cricket in the Gulf. While the Sharjah cricket ground (UAE)  hosted many ODI (One Day International )tournaments, and was witness to a number of thrillers between India and Pakistan, match fixing allegations led to a ban on India playing cricket at non-regular venues for a duration of 3 years (for a period of 7 years from 2003, Sharjah did not get to host any ODI). The Pakistan cricket team has been playing its international home series at Sharjah, Abu Dhabu and Dubai for over a decade (since 2009) and the sixth season of the Pakistan Super League is also being played in UAE. Sharjah has also hosted 9 test matches (the first of which was played in 2002).

 Sharjah hosted part of the Indian Premier League (IPL) tournament in 2014, and last year too the tournament was shifted to UAE due to covid19 (apart from Sharjah, matches were played at Dubai and Abu Dhabi). This year again, the UAE and possibly Oman are likely to host the remaining matches of the IPL which had to be cancelled due to the second wave of Covid19. The ICC Men’s T20 World Cup to be held later this year (October-November 2021), which was actually to be hosted by India,  could also be hosted not just in the UAE, but Oman as well (there are two grounds, one of them has floodlights). International Cricket Council (ICC) is looking for an additional venue to UAE, because a lot of cricket is being played there, and this may impact the pitches. The ICC while commenting on the possibility of the T20 World cup being hosted in the Middle East said:

, “The ICC Board has requested management [to] focus its planning efforts for the ICC Men’s  T20 World Cup 2021 on the event being staged in the UAE with the possibility of including another venue in the Middle East’

GCC countries are keen not just to host cricketing tournaments, but also to increase interest in the game. While Oman has a team managed by an Indian businessman, Saudi Arabia has set up the SACF (Saudi Arabian Cricket Federation) in 2020 and it has started the National Cricket Championship which will have more than 7,000 players and 36 teams at the school level. Peshawar Zalmi, a Pakistani franchise T20 cricket team, representing the city of Peshawar the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, which plays in the Pakistan’s domestic T20 cricket league – the Peshawar cricket league —  extended an invitation to the SACF, to play a friendly match against it. It’s owner Javed Afridi had extended the invitation to the Saudi Arabian team in April 2021.  Only recently, Chairman of SACF Prince Saud bin Mishal  met with India’s Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Dr Ausaf Saeed, to discuss ways for promoting the game in Saudi Arabia. He also visited the ICC headquarters at Dubai and apart from meeting officials of ICC also took a tour of Sharjah cricket ground.

GCC countries have a number of advantages over other potential neutral venues. First, the required infrastructure is already in place in some countries, and there is no paucity of financial resources which is very important. Second, there is a growing interest in the game in the region, and one of the important factors for this is the sizeable South Asian expat population. Third, a number of former cricketers from South Asia are not only coaching cricket teams, but also being roped in to create more enthusiasm with regard to the game. Fourth, UAE along with other GCC countries, could also emerge as an important venue for the resumption of India-Pakistan cricketing ties.

Conclusion

In conclusion, if GCC countries other than UAE — like Saudi Arabia and Oman  — can emerge as important cricketing venues, their ‘Soft Power’ appeal is likely to further get strengthened especially vis-à-vis South Asia. South Asian expats, who have contributed immensely to the economic growth of the region, and former South Asian cricketers will have an important role to play in popularizing the game in the Gulf. Cricket which is already an important component of the GCC — South Asia relationship, could help in further strengthening people to people linkages.

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Analyzing the role of OIC

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Composed of fifty-seven countries and spread over four continents, the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) is the second-largest intergovernmental body following the United Nations (UN). And it is no secret that the council was established in the wake of an attack on the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. Safeguarding and defending the national sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity of its member states is the significant provision of the OIC’s charter. OIC charter also undertakes to strengthen the bond of unity and solidarity among member states. Uplifting Islamic values, practicing cooperation in every sphere among its members, contributing to international peace, protecting the Islamic sites, and assisting suppressed Muslim community are other significant features of its charter. 

Recently, the world witnessed the 11-days long conflict between Hamas and Israel. In a recent episode of the clash between two parties, Israel carried out airstrikes on Gaza, claiming many innocent Palestinian lives. The overall death toll in the territory rose to 200, including 59 children and 35 women, with 1305 injured, says Hamas-run health ministry. This event was met with resentment from people across the world, and they condemned Israeli violence. After 11 days of violence, the Israeli government and Hamas agreed to a ceasefire. The event of Israeli violence on Palestinians has called the role of OIC into question. The council, formed in the aftermath of the onslaught on Al-Aqsa mosque, seemed to adopt a lip service approach to the conflict. However, the call for stringent measures against Israeli aggression by the bloc was not part of its action. 

Likewise, the Kashmir issue, which has witnessed atrocities of Indians on innocent Kashmiris, looks up to the OIC for its resolution. Last year, during the 47th session of the Council of Foreign Ministers (CFM) in Niamey, Niger, the CFM reaffirmed its strong support for the Kashmir cause. The OIC categorically rejected illegal and unilateral actions taken by India on August 5 to change the internationally recognized disputed status of the Indian Illegally Occupied Jam­mu and Kashmir and demanded India rescind its illegal steps. However, the global community seems to pay deaf ears to the OIC’s resolution. The Kashmir issue and the Palestine issue are the core issues of the world that are witnessing the worst humanitarian crisis. And the charter of the bloc that aims to guard the Muslim ummah’s interest rings hollow. About a year ago, the event that made rounds on electronic and social media was the occurring of the KL summit, which reflected another inaction of the OIC. The move of influential Muslim countries (Iran, Turkey, and Indonesia), to sail on the idea to establish another forum to counter the OIC, manifested the rift in the bloc.  

Many OIC countries are underdeveloped and poorly governed and are home to instability, violence, and terrorism. The consequences of the violence and terrorism in the OIC countries have been devastating. According to Forbes, 7 out of 10 countries, which suffer most from terrorism are OIC members. The Syrian conflict is another matter of concern in the Mideast, looking up to OIC for a way out. An immense number of people have lost their lives in the Civil war in Syria.

Several factors contribute to the inefficiency of the bloc. The first and foremost reason is the Saudi-Iran stalemate. Influential regional powers (Iran and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia) in the Mideast share strained links following the Islamic Revolution in Iran. Both sides dissent each other on many fronts. Saudi Arabia accuses Tehran of interfering in its internal affairs, using terrorism as a tool to intimidate neighbors, fuelling sectarianism, and equipping proxies to de-stabilize and overthrow the legitimate government. Locked in a proxy war in the Mideast, the KSA and Iran vie for regional dominance. Moreover, Iran’s nuclear program is met with strong resentment in the KSA since it shifts the Balance of Power towards Iran. Such developments play a vibrant role in their stalemate, and the bloc’s effectiveness is hostage to the Saudi-Iran standoff.

Political and social exclusion in many OIC states is the norm of the day, contributing to upheaval and conflict. In OIC countries, the level of political participation and political and social integration is weak. This fact has rendered OIC countries vulnerable to unrest. Arab Spring in 2011 stands as the best example. Furthermore, conflicts, since the mid-1990s, have occurred in weak states that have encountered unrest frequently. 

Saudi Arabia has tightened its grip on the OIC. The reason being, the OIC secretariat and its subsidiary bodies are in the KSA. More importantly, the KSA’s prolific funding to the bloc enhances its influence on the bloc. One example includes, in the past, the KSA barred an Iranian delegation from the OIC meeting in Jeddah. Saudi authorities have not issued visas for the Iranian participants, ministry spokesman, says Abbas Mousavi. “The government of Saudi Arabia has prevented the participation of the Iranian delegation in the meeting to examine the deal of the century plan at the headquarters of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation,” Mousavi said, the Fars news agency reported. Given the Iranian growing influence and its access to nuclear capabilities, the KSA resorted to using financial leverage to reap support from Arab countries against Iran. For instance, in past, Somalia and several other Arab states such as Sudan and Bahrain received a commitment of financial aid from Saudi Arabia on the same day they cut ties with Iran. Furthermore, the summits of OIC, GCC, and Arab League are perceived as an effort by Saudi Arabia to amass support against Tehran. 

Division in the Muslim world and their clash of interests is yet another rationale behind its inefficacy. These days, many Muslim countries are bent on pursuing their interests rather than paying commitment to their principles, that is, working collectively for the upkeep of the Muslim community. Last year, the governments of Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) announced that they had agreed to the full normalization of relations. Following this, the Kingdom of Bahrain became another Muslim country to normalize its links with Israel. Such moves by the Islamic countries weaken the OIC agenda against Israel. 

OIC’s efficacy would be a distant dream unless the Saudi-Iran deadlock finds its way. For this purpose, Pakistan can play a vital role in mediating between these two powers. Pakistan has always been an active player in the OIC and played its role in raising its voice against Islamophobia, Palestine Issue, and the Kashmir issue. Shunning their interests and finding the common goals of the Muslim ummah, should be the utmost priority for the members of the bloc. Every OIC member ought to play its part in the upkeep of the bloc. Furthermore, a split in the bloc should come to an end since it leads to the polarization of member states towards regional powers. Many OIC countries are rich in hydrocarbons (a priceless wealth, which is the driver for the growth of a country); if all OIC members join hands and enhance their partnership in this sphere they can fight against energy security. And OIC is the crux for magnifying cooperation among its member states to meet their energy needs.

In this era of globalization, multilateralism plays a pivotal part. No one can deny the significance of intergovernmental organizations since they serve countries in numerous ways. In the same vein, OIC can serve Muslim ummah in multiple ways; if it follows a course of adequate functioning.

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