WPK Afzaal Mahmood-1646235005000
Afzaal Mahmood, Pakistan Ambassador to the UAE. Image Credit: Samihah Zaman

Abu Dhabi: A summit of foreign ministers from the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) countries will present opportunities to discuss issues and cooperate with one another at an especially challenging time for the world, a top Pakistani diplomat said in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday.

The 48th session of the OIC Council of Foreign Ministers (CFM) will be hosted in Islamabad, Pakistan on March 22 and 23, and see the participation of the UAE and other members, Afzaal Mahmood, Pakistani Ambassador to the UAE, told media at a press briefing.

Challenging times

“We are living in a challenging world where unity among our ranks, support for justice, and development together can make a lot of difference in the lives of people in the Muslim World and across the globe. We are looking forward to a productive session, and the [hope] is that all member countries will participate, since the meeting is taking place at a challenging time,” Mahmood said.

The OIC is the second largest organisation after the United Nations, with a membership of 57 states spread over four continents. It is regarded as the collective voice of the Muslim world, working for the promotion of international peace and harmony. CFM is one of OIC’s key bodies, along with Islamic Summit and the General Secretariat.

Addressing queries on whether the Russia-Ukraine crisis will be under discussion at the meeting, Mahmood said the issue is not “directly related” to OIC member countries, but that it may come up in talks about “global peace, stability and development”.

Afghanistan aid

Pakistan also hosted an extraordinary session of the OIC foreign ministers council, based on a proposal from Saudi Arabia, in December 2021 to discuss the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan. The Taliban government participated in the session, where it was decided to set up a humanitarian trust fund to avert a crisis. Mahmood said that he foresaw Taliban participation in the upcoming OIC CFM meeting.

“No country has yet recognised the Taliban regime, but they did join the extraordinary session in Islamabad, which was meant for the welfare of the people of Afghanistan. Since they are controlling the country, I think they should have an opportunity to participate [in the upcoming OIC CFM meeting]. I am foreseeing participation, because even humanitarian assistance has to be made possible through them,” the ambassador said.

The envoy also thanked the UAE for support extended to Afghans following the Taliban takeover of the nation.

“Pakistan is the most affected country in terms of the Afghan refugee crisis. We have four million refugees who have come from 1979 onwards. Considering them as brothers from a neighbouring Muslim country, Pakistan opened its doors to them, and there has been no effort to [send] them back. With the change of regime, our biggest concern was that if there is an economic or humanitarian issue, like food shortages and shortages of other facilities, and people started to leave Afghanistan, Pakistan [would be] their first choice.

“It is convenient, and they have family there and historical relations. They [also] find it easy to cross in Pakistan. This is the spirit in which we have encouraged support from the international community to avert a humanitarian crisis, and we are thankful to all those countries who have shared the responsibility of supporting Afghan refugees, be it the UAE or any other country, Mahmood said.

Pakistan has previously hosted four other sessions of the OIC CFM.

“There is great potential among OIC member states for trade, investment and cultural cooperation…We are hoping that most OIC member countries will participate in the Islamabad meeting at the highest level, with the objective of elaborating on regional and international issues,” Mahmood added.