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Minister of State Shri M J Akbar’s speech on India’s International Partnerships at Manama Dialogue 2017(Bahrain,December 09, 2017)

December 09, 2017

Dr. John Chipman,
My colleague from Oman,
A very distinguished gathering here,
Even more distinguished by the presence of a legendary name in International Affairs sitting in the front row,

May I begin by thanking John [Chipman] for the invitation to the Manama Dialogue; but most of all by thanking His Majesty, the King of Bahrain, the Crown Prince and the Foreign Minister for the extremely warm and generous hospitality and for maintaining a conversation, a symposium, a dialogue, call it what you will, which has now acquired a very singular presence in international efforts to try and understand this increasingly complex world and try and find options - I am not so optimistic to call them solutions - through the process of dialogue. This is, as John said just now, the 13th dialogue, so it must be our lucky year.

It is traditional to describe the Middle East as a part of India’s extended neighbourhood. The term ‘extended’ is interesting in itself, because implicit in the term is that there is also the concept of a ‘tended’ neighbourhood. Given the tendencies that we see in many neighbourhoods, maybe the time has come to examine what precisely we mean when we use the term "neighbour.”

We almost always measure a neighbour through distance. Is that sufficient anymore? I would suggest that we extend the definition of neighbour with the use of the term "reach.”

Distance is clearly not enough. Can we reach our neighbour or not? That is probably more relevant than distance. There are countries which are geographically very close to each other but never reach each other. Or if they do reach each other, it is really along the ice-floor of a freeze.

Distance and reach require re-interpretation. It often strikes me that distance from Delhi to Dubai is three flying hours, and the distance from Dubai to Cairo is also three flying hours, but Cairo is seen as a neighbour (of UAE) and Delhi is seen in terms of distance.

There are hundreds of flights now, many hundreds, between India and the Gulf region, every week. On the other hand, I can’t count even on the fingers of one hand the number of flights that we might have with one particular neighbour. So what then is the meaning of being a neighbour?

A neighbour must be defined by more than physical proximity; a neighbour also has to be someone who shares the same or similar values because without sharing values the neighbourhood doesn’t function in a positive mode; nor will we find either the commonality of views that encourages cooperation, or indeed the will to ensure course correction when so required.

An additional point on the same subject. Human beings have become land animals. We are so trapped by the presence of land in almost everything, whether it is industry, agriculture, culture, demographics, living, that we quite forget that there is more than one map of the world.

India has a land map which is familiar. When you think of India you think of an inverted triangle. But a neighbourhood need no longer be defined by only a land map. India, like so many other countries, also has a sea map, and the sea map now is increasingly becoming a very important fact in our definition of who is a nation to engage with and who not. The sea map of India extends from waters not far from here [Manama] right upto the Malacca Straits.

The theme of our foreign policy as defined by our Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, is "Shared values, Common destiny.” What are the values that we talk about? The most important of these values in our view is nationalism and pluralism.

What is the principal objective that we all aspire to when we talk about a common destiny in the 21st century? There are always many aspirations, many objectives that nations will have but if you have to pinpoint one thing that we all have or should have in common, it is a desire for prosperity. Prosperity by itself is insufficient, it has to be shared prosperity. When we talk of shared prosperity we do not merely mean shared prosperity between nations, we have to have shared prosperity even within our individual countries.

One of the more pernicious theories of economic policy, at least in my personal view, is the Trickle Down Theory. What does this Trickle Down Theory, advertised so often, mean? It really means that those who have swimming pools will get a waterfall and those who are dying of thirst will get a trickle. That is not sustainable.

What is the principal threat to the common objective of prosperity? The most menacing threat is conflict. And the worst manifestation of conflict now is terrorism.

Everyone in this distinguished audience is well aware that since 1996 the United Nations has been trying to search for a definition for terrorism. Soon we will be celebrating the 21st anniversary of yet another failure, and I often wonder: how do you confront an enemy you can’t define? But be that as it may, through our different experiences we also know that when we see terrorism we can recognize it.

The question that I would like to pose here is, do terrorists have serious political objectives or is terrorism merely a desire for chaos for the sake of chaos? Terrorists do have very serious political objectives. Their first objective is the destruction of the nation state.

The nation state, as it has evolved, is a comparatively modern phenomenon.

The last hundred years have seen four world wars. The interlinkage between the first two are well known. The Second World War was quickly followed by the Cold War. The Cold War may have been very cold in Europe but it was very very hot in South East Asia, in Latin America and in Africa as well. If we assume that the Third World War ended in Afghanistan, then the Fourth World War, which is the war against terrorism, began precisely where the Third World War ended. Four great empires disappeared at the end of World War I, and from their ashes rose the modern nation state. The process accelerated with the demise of colonization after the Second World War and India’s victory against British rule.

The nation state is now the principal building block of the architecture of stability across the world. It is no longer shaped by the will of elites, of dynasts and their armies, but by something else, which is the will of the people.

Terrorists seek to replace the nation state with faith based space. This is what we have seen with Daesh, this is what we have seen with Boko-Haram. The essential ideology of terrorism is faith supremacy. The value system we seek to sustain is based on pluralism, which means faith equality rather than faith supremacy.

What makes terrorism an existential problem is the desire of terrorists to destroy the pluralism and harmony of societies that have achieved this with great effort. Their weapon is the poison of fear, fear induced through arbitrary, random violence. The violence may be random, and arbitrary, but the purpose is not. And we can see the impact that this is having on societies and political systems everywhere.

When we talk of partnership are we only talking about government to government partnership or are we also talking about people to people partnership? One of the finest examples of people to people partnership is the fraternity that has been created between India and the Gulf.

Nine million or perhaps more Indians today are working in the Gulf region, and working here in peace. Compare this to turbulence all across Europe, caused by fears of immigration, fears of jobs being lost. True, all parallels are not exact, but we must celebrate something that is often discounted in this cynical world, which is the power of the culture of harmony, the power of shared philosophy, the power of a shared humanitarian approach.

Let me illustrate what we mean when we talk of a people-centric or humanitarian approach to foreign policy. Let us look at Yemen. We all know that there are efforts being made by Side X or Side Y to create a certain kind of government, but while we are engaged in this political conflict we cannot forgot that Yemen is also something more than an exercise in government formation. There are 20 million human beings there in urgent need of food, shelter and medicine; of these 11 million are children, 400,000 or maybe half a million of whom are facing severe malnutrition. How much attention are we actually paying to this? Remember this fact before your next dinner. Once we change the perspective, we find that there is far more material for building bridges than there is for creating a conflict and creating disharmony.

The elimination of terrorism is the biggest service to human rights. If life is the first and most fundamental of the human rights, then those who seek to destroy lives are a scourge.

Pluralism exists in almost every philosophy. I, as a Muslim, am very proud to say that the finest example of pluralism was in the Medina model of the Holy Prophet where people of all communities lived with one another, lived alongside each other, where there were places of worship for all communities. If we do not reassert our commitment to pluralism, then we will have lost the battle not just on the battlefield, we will have lost the battle somewhere much more important: in the mind.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Nations today are no longer big and small. Nations are sovereign, nations are equal. All nations have the same rights and indeed the same obligations. What we do have is difference in capacities. What we need to do is to find ways and means of sharing capacities in order to build shared and common prosperity.

India recognizes and stands by the Gulf region in its efforts to counter emerging security threats. However, while engaging with the Gulf countries, India’s approach has remained and will remain non-intrusive, non-judgmental and non-prescriptive. We do not take sides in intra-regional disputes. Despite the current regional flux we have progressively structured closer ties with all countries in the region towards safe-guarding mutual benefits and political, trade and investment, energy, diaspora and security interests and what we do continue to seek is partnership and cooperation in the struggle and in the fight against international terrorism and of course in byproducts of crime like maritime piracy.

Specifically, in forging security partnerships with the countries of the Gulf, various agreements that provide the framework on security cooperation have either been signed or under discussion such as the Extradition Treaty, Treaty on Mutual Legal Assistance, on Security Cooperation, on Combating Crime. For example the agreement on security cooperation with UAE signed in 2011 provides for cooperation to combat terrorism, organized crime, drug trafficking, weapon smuggling, money laundering, economic crimes and cybercrimes. And cyber-crimes are really looming ahead of us.

The state visit of the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi in January 2017 to Delhi provided further impetus in the area of defence cooperation wherein the two sides renewed their commitment to strengthening the existing cooperation in training, joint-exercises and participation in defence exhibitions.

With Saudi Arabia there is increasing focus on defence cooperation, the foundation for which was laid in Delhi Declaration in 2006 and further strengthened during our Prime Minister’s visit. An MoU on defence cooperation was also signed by the then Crown Prince and Defence Minister Prince Salman Bin Abdul Aziz Saud with India on February 2014.

Oman is one of our closest defence partners in the region.

Finally, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Our focus here is on the Middle East. The question we really need to ask is: What precisely is the Middle East in the middle of? Is it truly in the middle of the East? It doesn’t seem so, each time I look at the map. In fact if you want to find the true middle of Asia you’ll have to come to my country, India. India is the middle of the East.

We all know that Asia is a Greek concept which kept adding geography to its term, with each exploration by Europe.

Today, Asia has become a different kind of space. If you stand in Delhi and look West, and I say this with regret, you’ll find increasing space being occupied by great turbulence. But if you stand in India and look East you’ll find nations with completely different demographics, completely different cultures, in fact there are more Muslims living between India and Indonesia than living between India and Morocco, you find people of all faiths, Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism and indeed you find the largest collection of atheists also here, in China. But they have one thing in common and that is: they all believe that partnership is possible, cooperation is possible, despite differences, in the search for prosperity.

We believe that the basic impetus of diplomacy is to prevent differences from becoming disputes and disputes from becoming conflicts. This is the spirit which we hope will engage us all as we search for and find, I hope, common values and a common destiny.

Thank you.


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