BAMAKO (MALI): Amid headline-hogging strikes by India to hit back at Pakistan for the Uri massacre, thousands of miles away Vice-President Hamid Ansari engaged in quiet and effective diplomacy to forge a united front against terror with two key West African nations, including Nigeria and Mali. In Bamako, the capital of Mali, the vice-president outlined a template of mutual empowerment with the African continent by dovetailing India’s Africa policy with the vision of African resurgence crystallized in Agenda 2063.
In the first high-level visit from India to Mali, Mr Ansari pledged India’s unremitting support for the reconstruction and flowering of this nation of poets, scholars and musicians and underscored that New Delhi will work closely with Bamako to restore the glory of Timbuktu, which has been savagely assaulted and scarred by al-Qaeda in Maghreb militants.
Dovetailing India story with Agenda 2063
The enthusiasm in the Malian parliament was palpable as scores of legislators, dressed in traditional attire, welcomed Mr Ansari and greeted his speech with applause. The vice-president’s overarching message struck a resonance as he underlined that India’s relationship with Africa was not transactional, as it is the case with some other partners of the continent, but is unique and grounded in emotive connections, shared anti-colonial struggle and the kindred appetite for development. “Ours is no transactional partnership. Nor does India merely return to Africa what was earlier robbed from it,” he told the National Assembly in the Malian capital on September 30. “Our approach to partnership with Africa is driven by the aim of empowerment, capacity building, human resource development, access to Indian market, and support for Indian investments in Africa, so that the people of Africa have the capacity to make their own free choices and the capability to shoulder the responsibility for their continent’s development. Our relationship with Africa is unique and does not need any point of reference,” he said.
Underlining that the India-Africa partnership is “a two way street,” Mr Ansari indicated that India is not engaging Africa with any hidden agenda, but is working “in accordance with the requirements and priorities of our friends in Africa.”
“The roadmap for the future will reflect our shared vision and goals, and our respective strengths and capabilities. These could include areas such as human resource development, institution building, infrastructure, clean energy, agriculture, health, education and skill development.”
“We will also work together on addressing common issues like climate change and sustainable development of blue economy,” he said.
Raising the bar for the India-Africa partnership, he fleshed out key elements of this crucial relationship, which includes capacity building, human resource development and the establishment of skilling institutions in Africa. “We will certainly raise our partnership to a much higher level in the years ahead,” he said to ringing applause from assembled legislators.
Uniting against Terror
In this quest to build a stronger India-Africa partnership and the realisation of the Africa Africans want, Mr Ansari, an erudite scholar and a former diplomat, rightfully identified the scourge of terrorism as the “foremost obstacle.”
“The spreading tide of extremism and terrorism is a threat we both face,” he said.
Without naming Pakistan, he focused the attention of legislators on cross-border terrorism emanating from Pakistan. “We in India face it from across our borders. Terrorist actions cannot be justified on any grounds. India condemns terrorism in all its forms and manifestations and is of view that international and cross-border terrorism should be dealt in a comprehensive manner.” He sought the support of Mali, a victim of terror and a member of the 57-nation Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, for an early adoption of the Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism (CCIT).
Being an eminent scholar with a deep interest in Islamic culture and history, Mr Ansari could not visit the fabled Timbuktu due to the fragile security situation there, but he conveyed his deep anguish at the destruction and desecration of cultural treasures in this UNESCO heritage site. “We were deeply pained when some extremist elements tried to desecrate and destroy the cultural treasures in the famed and historic city of Timbuktu. The Government of India strongly condemns the destruction of heritage sites and places of immense cultural value to entire humankind by extremists and is ready to support Mali’s efforts to revive and restore the rich glory of Timbuktu.”
Partnering Mali’s reconstruction
Mr Ansari’s visit to Mali has opened a new chapter of accelerated engagement with this land-locked West African country of enormous promise and potential. He lauded the vitality of democracy in Mali and underscored India’s resolve to be “a partner in Mali’s reconstruction, economic development and growth.” India has extended 7 Lines of Credit, worth US$ 353 million to Mali for a host of development projects. With shared interests and kindred concerns, the planned India-aided $150 million power project which will connect Bamako and Sikasso via Bougouni, is set to power India-Mali relations to new heights.
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