Gulf is an important artery for flow of goods, people: Khurshid

Manama, Dec.8,: External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid on Sunday said that the Gulf region has historically been an important artery for the flow of goods and ideas and movement of peoples from and to India.

“The Gulf region is India’s extended neighbourhood. Just one subject – seaborne trade – is enough to illustrate the learning that has happened in the two directions,” he said, in his address at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) Manama Dialogue here today.

He further said that Gulf is India’s largest trading partner, and added that the bilateral trade with the Gulf has increased from USD 167 billion in 2011-12 to over USD 180 billion in 2012-13.

“The traditional dominance of oil imports persists, but there are encouraging trends. For instance, our exports to Saudi Arabia increased by over 70 percent last year to reach nearly USD 10 billion,” he said.

Khurshid also said that two-thirds of India’s oil and gas requirement comes from the Gulf, and thus the region plays a vital role in India’s energy security.

“About 7 million Indians live and work in the Gulf, and their remittances contribute 40 percent of our total inward remittances of USD 70 billion a year, and thus play a critical role in our external finances,” he said.

“The contribution of Indian expatriates to the socio-economic development of their host countries is well recognized and they are respected for their technical competence, sense of discipline, non-involvement in regional political issues and for their law-abiding nature,” he added.

He also said that the Gulf region is a potential source of sizeable investments for India.

Khurshid added that the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) members have significant surplus capital, and India is one of the few countries, having the capacity to absorb large capital flows for infrastructure development.

“The Gulf is now a significant platform for the operations of Indian companies. It is also a hub for outbound Indian passengers and tourists, with 700 flights a week between UAE and India alone,” he said.

Highlighting some of the long-term strategic facets of India’s relationship with the Gulf, Khurshid said that on one hand, India’s energy security heavily depends on the Gulf region, and on the other, India is a dependable and long-term market for the Gulf countries.

“Serious efforts are being made to transform these relationships from a buyer-seller one to a more broad-based one, with equity partnership in oil production, joint ventures in oil exploration, petrochemical complexes, fertilizer plants and partnership in strategic reserves storage facility being built up in India,” he said.

Terming defence and security to be another facet of the long-term cooperation between India and the Gulf, Khurshid said India’s security cooperation with the GCC countries is developing to mutual benefit.

“An example is the 2011 Agreement on Security Cooperation with UAE which provides for cooperation to combat terrorism, organized crime, drug trafficking, weapons smuggling, money laundering, economic crimes and cyber crimes.

“The region sits astride strategic Sea Lines of Communications (SLOCs) and any disruption to these SLOCs can have a serious impact on the Indian economy, including in terms of energy supplies,” he added.

He said that it is important to keep the region out of bounds for pirates, and other nefarious non-state actors.

“India has the capability and the will to not only safeguard India’s own coastline and island territories, but also contribute to keeping our region’s SLOCs open and flowing. The Indian Navy has continuously deployed one ship since Oct er 2008 in the Gulf of Aden for anti-piracy duties with Operational Turnarounds (OTRs) at Salalah in Oman,” he added.

Khurshid said that India remains engaged on issues of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) proliferation and disarmament in the Middle East given the global impact of WMD proliferation, including India’s own security interests.

“We are adding joint military exercises, friendly visits of naval ships and broad-based MoUs on defence cooperation to the traditional templates of bilateral cooperation. This is not surprising as the vital security interests of the two sides are interlinked,” he said.

Khurshid said that the attention of the international community was engaged on the aftereffects of the so-called Arab Spring, and added that India is against armed conflict or external intervention as a way of resolving political issues in the region or elsewhere in the world.

He further said that the most serious situation today is concerning Syria, which has now developed into a full-fledged civil war with external dimensions, displacing nearly one-fourth of the country’s population

“India condemns violence by all sides and supports dialogue and negotiations between the Government and the insurgents, leading the formation of a Transitional Governing Body, followed by elections, as envisaged under the Geneva Communique of June 2012. Any external military intervention is unlikely to help,” he said.

“India has decided to provide US dollars one million as well as experts and training for the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons. This is in keeping with India’s active participation in the Chemical Weapons Convention and our firm commitment to the global and verifiable elimination of all weapons of mass destruction,” he added.

Khurshid also said that India has welcomed the agreement in Geneva reached on 24 November between Iran and the E3+3, and said that this agreement is consistent with India’s position that the issue should be resolved diplomatically on the basis of recognition of Iran’s right to peaceful uses of nuclear energy, and in accordance with Iran’s international obligations as a non-nuclear weapon state.

“We also welcome the agreement reached on 11 November between Iran and the IAEA, which is the competent technical agency to verify the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear activities, on practical measures for enhanced IAEA verification activity at Iranian nuclear sites,” he said.

He also said that India has not let the recent uncertainties come in the way of growing engagement with all countries of the Arabian Peninsula and the broader Middle East.

“Our successful efforts to upgrade our relations with both Saudi Arabia and Iraq are an illustration of this approach. The cooperation we are getting on counter-terrorism for example is a tribute to the mutual trust and understanding we have been able to build together,” he added. (ANI)