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New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s UAE visit has opened the floor for discussions on future engagements with the West Asia and North African region. At a conference organized by Oval Observer Foundation, H.E. Ahmed Berwari, Ambassador of Iraq to India, while sharing the situation back home because of  repeated attacks by ISIS, commented on India’s limited role and involvement. He commended India’s efforts in evacuating its citizens, but suggested that India ought to have extended greater help to the region considering the historic economic and civilizational ties that India shares with Iraq.

Mr. Satbir Singh, Joint Secretary, WANA division, Ministry of External Affairs, co-panelling the discussion, stated the position of the Indian government vis-à-vis India’s current policy for the region and its interests in building further economic ties with the larger West Asia and North Africa division. Addressing H.E. Ahmed Berwari’s concern he said, “India’s neutrality in the region in terms of engagement in various conflicts should not be confused with passivity, rather India is being cautious of not appearing as partisan lest there may be a domestic backlash. India has managed to keep itself insulated from the economic and security turbulence in the region on account of this approach and continues to seek deeper economic integration with the region.”

Another panelist, Prof. Kumaraswamy, School of International Studies, JNU, stressed that India has the scope of engaging with Israel in many new sectors such as water management and agriculture and shouldn’t let its historical support for Palestine affect this relationship. Kumaraswamy also stressed that while there was great power expectation from India to assume a leadership role in conflicts within the region, India simply isn’t ready to take on such a role.Clarifying the Indian government’s position on this issue, Singh stated that India has the requisite capabilities to match such expectations but is following a nuanced policy of studied silence.

H.E. Tarek Azouz, Ambassador of Tunisia to India, responded to Prof. Kumaraswamy’s statement by stressing that India has a moral duty to support the Palestinian cause and shouldn’t just look at relations in the region from an economic and strategic standpoint. Adding to the Tunisian Ambassador’s response H.E. Hatem Tageldin, Ambassador of Egypt said, “Palestine remained a key issue for Egypt even during the Arab spring and it played an important role in brokering a ceasefire, thus it is not a question of capability rather a question of willingness to engage”. Thus, the diplomats from the Arab region, through their utterances, urged India to adopt a more proactive than a reactive policy in the region.

On a separate note, Kumarawamy commended the Prime Minister’s visit to UAE and regarded it as a strategically brilliant move, which may pave the way for India to expand its spere of influence in the larger West Asian region.

Amb. Ishrat Aziz drew on his vast experience and research on West Asia, while commenting that there are 7 million Indians living in this region who provide about 40 billion dollars per year in foreign remittance to India. Each individual in the region may be supporting three individuals in India, therefore in essence; India needs to look after the welfare of 21 million Indians approximately. He said, “The Indian government must declare West Asia as a vital interest zone.”
‘He stressed that welfare of Indian diaspora in the region cannot just be charity rather it should be an investment and India must adopt a proactive policy for the region considering quantitatively the region is of greater value than US, EU, South East Asia and South Korea combined.’

The MEA is now looking forward to the India-Arab Ministerial Conference planned for December 2015 in Manama, which will give further momentum to expanding relations between India and Arab countries.

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