The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Russia seeks OIC role

New Delhi, Sept. 25: Russia is lobbying hard to become an observer in the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC), which refused to accord a similar status to India two years ago.

Delhi is watching developments in the organisation as it is concerned over the possibility of the election of Bangladesh’s Sallauddin Kader Chaudhury as its secretary-general.

Chaudhury, close to Bangladeshi Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia, is described as “virulently anti-Indian” by South Block mandarins. Chaudhury’s presence, alongside Pakistan, could lead to many more critical resolutions against India.

If the 52-nation organisation agrees, Russia will be allowed to attend the summit at Kuala Lumpur between October 16 and 18 as an observer. Chaudhury may also be elected next month if there are no other serious challengers.

Two years ago at the Doha summit, Qatar, Oman and some others had proposed that India be made observer. But it was rejected at Pakistan’s behest.

On the face of it, Pakistan is not too keen on Russia either. But the Russian roving ambassador for the Islamic world, Viniamin Popov, is touring South Asia, lobbying Pakistan and Bangladesh. Popov is also said to have held talks with Indian officials.

Delhi is watching Russia’s efforts with both interest and trepidation. If Moscow manages to wriggle into the OIC, it will raise serious questions about India’s diplomatic initiative with the Arab and Islamic countries. On the other hand, if India, with the second-largest Muslim population in the world, cannot get in and Russia, with much less, does, it would raise doubts about the organisation’s sense of fairplay.

Officials in Delhi are putting up a brave front, saying friends in Moscow can play an important role in toning down critical resolutions that Pakistan is likely to initiate on Kashmir and Gujarat.

But many foreign ministry officials are sceptical about how helpful Russia will be. Moscow’s main concern is to contain critical statements on Chechnya, where it plans to hold elections next month.

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