MANAMA (BAHRAIN): The use and abuse of religion for fomenting terrorism and violence must stop. This was the urgent message from External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj at the first ministerial meeting of India-Arab Cooperation Forum held in Manama, the capital of Bahrain. The case for enhanced counter-terror cooperation between India and Arab states has acquired an added urgency against the backdrop of the ascent of the Islamic State and the proliferation of radical jihadi networks in the energy-rich West Asia region.
Making an impassioned plea for India and the Arab world to join hands in combating terrorism, Mrs Swaraj stressed on the need to delink terrorism from religion. In a pointed reference to the states using terrorism as a geopolitical strategy, Mrs Swaraj cautioned that those who silently sponsor terror groups could end up being used by them.
“Those who believe that silent sponsorship of such terrorist groups can bring rewards must realise that they have their own agenda; they are adept at using the benefactor more effectively than the sponsor has used them,” Mrs Swaraj told the Foreign Ministers of Arab League states.
Alluding to the “turning point” in relations between India and the Arab world, India’s foreign minister elaborated on delinking religion from terrorism by stressing that the only distinction is between those who believe in humanity and those who do not. “Terrorists use religion, but inflict harm on people of all faiths,” she said.
Showcasing India as a model of unity in diversity, Mrs Swaraj said, “We in India have citizens who belong to every existing faith. Our Constitution is committed to the fundamental principle of faith-equality: the equality of all faiths not just before the law but also in daily behaviour.” She also quoted from the Holy Quran, saying that inter-faith harmony is the message of the holy book as well. Focusing on countering terror, Mrs Swaraj said the antidote to terrorism is the path of peace, tolerance and harmony.
India-Arab League economic cooperation
India has huge stakes in countering radicalism and terrorism in West Asia as it looks up to energy-rich countries of the region for foreign investments to shore up its infrastructure. The minister highlighted the growing compass of common interests between India and the Arab world. “Today the Arab world is collectively India’s largest trading partner with bilateral trade crossing US$ 180 bn. We source 60% of our oil and gas requirements from West Asia, making this region a pillar of our energy security. The Maghreb region is a major source of phosphates and other fertilizers which contributes significantly towards our food security.”
“The new and emerging areas of our cooperation include agricultural research, dry land farming, irrigation and environmental protection. In all of these we would be happy to share our experience with our Arab partners,” she said.
The minister expressed India’s support to partner the Arab countries in areas such as Information and Communication Technologies (ICT), automobiles and Small and Medium Enterprises, biotechnology and space. Pitching for investments in India’s infrastructure sector, she spoke about the role the sovereign wealth funds of Gulf countries can play in bolstering India’s infrastructure needs.
Arguing for bolstering people-to-people contacts, Ms Swaraj spoke about the contribution of the 7 million strong Indian diaspora in the region. Sounding optimistic, she said that the 3rd India-Arab Cultural Festival to be held in India this year will further promote cultural contacts and cooperation between the two sides.
(Sridhar Ramaswamy contributed inputs for this article)
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