PEACE sits high on the priority list of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC), and Kuala Lumpur is expected to play a pivotal role in pushing that agenda.
Last month, at the OIC Council of Foreign Ministers meeting in Damascus, council members proposed that the OIC should be given more power to resolve conflicts in Muslim countries.
OIC Secretary-General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu notes that such a proposal is being outlined for the first time in the history of the OIC, which commemorates its 40th anniversary this year, and it is a significant move to heighten the role of the OIC in conflict resolution and peacekeeping.
Ihsanoglu says the proposals and suggestions from all 57 OIC member countries will be compiled and tabled in May next year. "We want Malaysia to give us more political, financial and professional support," he said after being conferred the Panglima Setia Mahkota, which carries the title "Tan Sri", on Yang di-Pertuan Agong Tuanku Mizan Zainal Abidin's birthday last Saturday.
Ihsanoglu is the first foreign secretary-general to receive such an award from Malaysian royalty.
Being the second-largest organisation after the United Nations, the OIC has tabled peace as its main objective, and has been engaged for the last few years in seeking solutions conducive to the establishment of peace in Muslim countries.
The ceasefire in Lebanon in 2006 was one example of Malaysia's important role in the OIC, says Ihsanoglu.
The OIC had held an emergency meeting, chaired by former prime minister Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, to condemn the Israeli offensive in southern Lebanon and urge a ceasefire, which was followed by the deployment of UN-led peacekeeping troops there.
"Malaysia was one of the first countries to sign and ratify the new charter of the OIC at the Putrajaya 2003 OIC summit, and they were very determined to see the reform take place," Ihsanoglu recalls.
Peacekeeping and conflict resolution may have taken another step forward with United States President Barack Obama's speech in Cairo last week, which raised prospects of issue resolution in Iraq, Iran and Palestine.
Ihsanoglu says the two critical issues needing immediate attention are Palestine and Afghanistan. "We hope also the US will be actively involved in political matters, particularly in the acute Palestinian dilemma and the plight of the Palestinian people."
Resolving the Palestine issue, he believes, will require the return of the rights of Palestinian refugees and a reversion to the territories' 1967 borders.
The increasingly critical situation in Afghanistan, meanwhile, requires a new policy to deal with problems, "in particular the killing of civilians, a disturbing element we really don't want to see".
Ihsanoglu, who was present at Cairo University for Obama's address to the Muslim world, said the "well-written and well-delivered" speech was an initiative in bridging the gap between Muslim nations and the US.
The speech, he says, touches on some of the points he had raised in an
open letter to Obama, published in the New York Times and International Herald Tribune on Jan 20.
"I had said we wanted to have a new partnership with the US, built on two principles. First, mutual respect; second, mutual interest. If we build the partnership on these two bases, I think the relationship will be balanced and serve the interests of both sides.
"And it will, of course, improve the image that was damaged in the last decade. The new element (Obama) is looking for is partnership, and we are ready to cooperate on this basis."
Ihsanoglu says Obama's speech was a round-up of what he had pledged in his presidential campaign, on inauguration day and in his speeches in Ankara and Istanbul.
"These ideas were already known but he has put them all in an excellent framework, to a good impression. It was well received by the audience at Cairo University.
"But what matters is that we want these ideas to be materialised. He referred to the cooperation of the US administration and the OIC, and he has announced a programme of fighting polio. That shows the intention of solving problems in health, science and technology and other related issues."
On human rights, Ihsanoglu says, the OIC has established an Independent Permanent Human Rights Commission to promote human rights in member countries.
Its first meeting was held last month at OIC headquarters in Jeddah, outlining among others the objectives, recommendations and responsibilities entrusted to the commission.
"Often we are criticised that we do not respect the universal understanding of human rights and have lagged behind the countries that observe and respect it. We don't want people to suffer from the lack of human rights."
The commission should pave the way to intellectual and political reforms across the OIC member countries, deepening values of tolerance, fundamental freedoms, the rule of law, accountability and openness, while shunning bigotry and extremism as contrary to Islamic values.
The OIC has also included scientific and technological advancement as a priority of its agenda. One of the immediate efforts is to rank the best 20 universities in the OIC member countries and promote them to the rest of the world.
New Straits Times, June 8, 2009