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Valedictory Address by Foreign Secretary at the ICWA Seminar on ‘India and the GCC, Iran and Iraq: Security Perspectives’

November 21, 2010

Ambassador Sudhir T. Devare, Director General, Indian Council for World Affairs,
Dr. Reena Marwah, Secretary General, Association of Asian Scholars,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am delighted to be joining you today for the ICWA-AAS Asian Relations Conference 2010. It is an honour to be addressing such a distinguished gathering of eminent scholars, diplomats and experts on the issue of India and GCC Countries, Iran and Iraq: Emerging Security Perspectives.

I wish to congratulate ICWA and AAS for the very important initiative in organizing the Asian Relations Conferences in 2009 and this year. With the economic, political, strategic and cultural focus in world affairs increasingly shifting towards the Asian Continent, it is entirely appropriate and timely that ICWA has sought to revive the buoyant and exhilirating spirit of the Asian Relations Conference held in March 1947 by ICWA itself, on the eve of India's independence, when India and the Asian Continent as a whole expressed a shared sense of the possibility and the potential of mutual cooperation for benefit of our peoples.

My address today is based on the following premises:

One, that India shares with the countries of the GCC, Iran and Iraq the closest of civilizational, cultural and historical links;

Two, that these links have not been passive but active and alive throughout history and this dynamism energises the relationship even today;

Three, that we share an ocean that has been the pulsating heart of the world, economically and strategically, for over two millennia;

Four, that the dramatic economic growth in India and China and other countries of Asia promise to make this an Asian century;

Five, that the countries of the GCC, Iran and Iraq will be fully a part of the Asian renaissance, given the growing demand from the rest of Asia for energy resources and investible finances, and in light of the increasing diversification and sophistication of West Asian economies as they seek to become financial and knowledge hubs not just of Asia but of the whole world;

Six, that as with Europe in the last century, intra-Asian interdependence will dramatically increase, and the costs of any forced disruption of these linkages will become higher.

Seven, as pressure on our resources increase, and even as science and technology progresses to overcome the challenges posed, India and the countries in its extended neighbourhood will increasingly have to forge common solutions to problems such as those of energy and food security, water scarcity, climate change and instances of drought and flood, and rapid reactions to natural disasters.

Based on these premises, the following conclusions can be drawn: that our countries have a shared interest in the security of the sea lanes that link West Asia to the rest of the Continent; that stability in the countries of the region as well as of those abutting them – Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia have a direct impact on GCC countries, Iran, Iraq and India, and must be an area of cooperation and consultation; that India is a natural partner for the GCC, Iran and Iraq given our rapid economic growth, and limitless opportunities as an investment destination, especially in the infrastructure sector; that our people-to-people exchanges are a largely untapped source of dynamism and strength for our partnership; that India’s growing political, military, economic and cultural influence is welcomed in the West Asian region given that India plays a stabilizing role; and lastly, that our partnership would be of mutual benefit, both economically, and in the related realm of cooperation in security-related issues.

India’s ties with the countries of the GCC, Iran and Iraq have their origins in history and mythology. There were rich commercial links between the two sides as far back as the Harappan Civilization, and an unending stream of traders and philosophers, scholars and warriors, religious figures and pilgrims have strengthened the ties over the millennia, with scientific, cultural, religious and commercial exchanges that have influenced the lives of ordinary people on both sides. In our art and culture, our language and literature and cuisine, the impact of this interaction can be clearly seen even today. India was known as a source of products of daily life as well as luxuries; in fact the skilled Persian and Arab navigators and boatmakers who traveled to the Indian coast are said to have sourced wood for their boats from the Indian subcontinent. Indian ships carried pilgrims to Jeddah for the Haj pilgrimage. And as I said before, this is a living and dynamic interaction, underlined most starkly by the presence of over 5.5 million Indians in the region. Indians form the largest group of expatriates in each of the GCC countries and have contributed to the remarkable economic transformation of these countries in the last half century. Their remittances to India are also significant. Given our mutual cultural comfort levels and history of interaction, I am confident that the linkages forged at the people-to-people level will further invigorate the vision we have for further enhancing our relationship.

Our economic ties provide a firm foundation for the future. In 2009-10, two way trade with just one GCC country - the UAE - was greater than our trade with China. Our trade with GCC as a whole was almost US$100 billion last year. Add our trade with Iran and Iraq, which was over US$13 billion and US$ 7.5 bn respectively in 2009-10, and the strength of the economic relationship is clear. What is even more exciting is what the future promises. The GCC countries, Iran and Iraq already dominate India’s imports of crude oil. As India’s economy continues its growth of 8-10%, energy imports will inevitably increase, and geography, economics and history dictate that West Asia will remain a preferred partner. India and other Asian countries such as China will also remain major markets for energy exports from West Asia, which is planning to expand its oil production capacity substantially, from an already high base, by 2020. It has been estimated that the oil income of countries of the West Asia region would increase substantially over the next couple of decades; this accumulation of investible surplus provides a perfect match to India’s investment needs, particularly in infrastructure (such as electricity generation, roads, telecom, ports, irrigation). The countries of the region have themselves been looking to diversify their investments for which they increasingly look at Asian countries. The countries of the GCC, Iran and Iraq have emerged as hubs along what has been called a ‘new silk route’ linking the economies of West Asia to the fast-growing economies of East Asia, South Asia and Central Asia. In the new millennia, the mutual ties and interdependence between India and the countries of the GCC, Iran and Iraq will only increase further.

The restoration of stability in Afghanistan and assistance to the people and Government of Afghanistan as they build a peaceful, democratic, pluralistic and prosperous society is in the common interest of all our countries. Recent history has taught us that no country is immune from the acts of terrorist and extremist groups, not even the countries that supported and financed them and continue to provide them safe havens and sanctuaries. India’s vision is for Afghanistan to reclaim its traditional role as an economic hub linking West and South Asia with Central Asia, through freer trade, transit, pipelines and movement of people. This is however only possible if the independence and sovereignty of Afghanistan are respected, if the international community shows sustained commitment to defeating the terrorists and extremist groups, and if such groups are denied sanctuary and support beyond Afghanistan’s borders.

Other issues where India’s cooperation with GCC, Iran and Iraq is essential is countering terrorism, its linkages with narco- trafficking and organized crime, countering money laundering, and dealing with proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and the threat of their falling into the hands of terrorists. In our increasingly interconnected and interdependent world, where technology can be used for both good and ill, proactive and dynamic cooperation between the law-enforcement and security related organs is increasingly essential, because the threats posed by terrorist and criminal groups have the potential to undermine all our societies.

Maritime security and free and safe passage of trade, including oil and gas, is of vital concern not just to India and the countries of West Asia, but also to the rest of the world. The problems of piracy in the Indian Ocean has dramatically illustrated potential threats that we all face. India has expressed its readiness to play its part in combatting this menace with the international community under the leadership of the UN. In this, and related issues, India, with its enhanced capacity and ability, can help to play a stabilizing and reassuring role. India’s role has been welcomed in the region: apart from India being seen as a neighbouring country, with historical and cultural commonalities, we are also viewed as non-hegemonistic, non-prescriptive and non-intrusive. This will stand us in good stead as we brace ourselves for the security challenges that are emerging this century, both traditional and non-traditional, both direct and those that indirectly flow from issues such as climate change, food insecurity and dealing with natural disasters. India has attempted to promote greater cooperation among Indian Ocean Rim States, which is necessary to take advantage of the opportunities that have opened up for mutually beneficial cooperation. We have sought to encourage economic cooperation in the area through Indian Ocean Rim Association for Regional Cooperation (IOR-ARC). India has also sought to give greater salience to initiatives such as the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium.

There is perhaps a need for creation of a permanent regional mechanism for dialogue and discussion in which countries of the region and others interested could participate. There are a number of regional initiatives such as the Manama dialogue, or those taken by different think-tanks, including the ICWA. It may however be necessary to consider a more expanded and structured mechanism which could discuss regional issues such as those of peace and stability, weapons proliferation, terrorism, counter-narcotics, etc.

Our most meaningful contribution to regional stability and security may come from enhancing mutually beneficial and high-level interaction. In the realm of economic linkages, creation of regional inter-bank clearance mechanisms, preferential and free trade agreements, regional energy markets and cooperation projects would be mutually beneficial and would enhance confidence. Politically, a greater commitment to dealing together with common problems such as the threat of terrorism and regional stability would send a powerful signal. In addition, countries of the region could give greater importance to enhancing the frequency and level of bilateral interactions, especially in the context of securing sea lanes and to counter piracy.

The issue of Palestine is of abiding concern to all of us. The rights of the Palestinian people remain to be achieved. This situation requires to be resolved at the earliest. Not only does it cause deep harm to the people there, it also has a negative resonance across the region and beyond. India remains convinced that a just and comprehensive solution to the Palestinian question is achievable. We continue to extend our full support to the Palestinian people in realizing their aspirations for a sovereign, independent, viable and united State living side-by-side, and at peace with the State of Israel.

India’s stand on the Iran nuclear issue has been consistent. We support the right of all States, including Iran, to peaceful uses of nuclear energy consistent with their international obligations. We also believe that the IAEA provides the best framework to address technical issues relating to Iran’s nuclear programme. We continue to support the path of peaceful dialogue and diplomacy to resolve all issues among relevant countries.

While recognizing the growth of India and China, there are some who posit that this will inevitably lead to conflict and competition between the two, including in West Asia, given the increasing demand for energy and other resources. I believe that there is a fundamental flaw in this argument. It is precisely the fact that China and India share similar views on a number of issues of common concern – energy security, food security, climate change and trade liberalization, that avenues open up for cooperation and consultation for the common benefit of all our people.

India looks forward to an enhanced partnership with the countries of the GCC, Iran and Iraq. This is not only a strategic and economic imperative, but would also represent a natural progression from our historical and civilizational ties which have few, if any, parallels in the world.

New Delhi
November 21, 2010

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