Amid escalation in violence in a number of Gulf countries, India expressed on Thursday deep concerns over the rise of fanaticism, extremism and terrorism in parts of the Arab region, saying they are tearing apart the fabric of societies as well as affecting regional stability.
address at an event in Delhi, external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj touched on a range of issues relating to Gulf nations and said India was looking at investments from the sizeable Sovereign Wealth Funds in the oil-rich countries which can prove to be a "game-changer" in India's quest for world-class infrastructure.
"Looking ahead, one can identify India's infrastructure sector as a major growth area for Arab investments. Our government has made infrastructure upgrade and the creation of smart cities major national priorities," she said, launching the first India-League of Arab States Media Symposium.
Referring to violence in a number Gulf countries, Swaraj said, "We are concerned for the stability of these countries where terrorism and fanaticism are tearing apart the fabric of societies and also concerned over the spill-over effects on regional stability.
"This concern is but natural as the fates of our two regions are intertwined in many ways. Our national and energy interests are certainly important; but more important is the human bond."
Calling for deepening of trade ties, she said the possibilities of growth on both sides are "virtually limitless". A number of countries in the Gulf region including Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain have huge sovereign wealth funds.
The Gulf region accounts for over 60% of India's oil and gas requirements. Collectively the Arab world is India's largest trading partner, with bilateral trade increasing to over $180 billion in 2012-13.
Noting that continued peace and stability in the region was crucial for "mutual strategic interest", Swaraj said India has been watching 'post-Arab Spring' developments very closely.
"India continues to be guided by the principles of being non-interfering, non-prescriptive and non-judgmental. In other words, India remains ready to provide any support, but strongly believes that it is for the Arab countries to decide their destiny, without any external interference or diktats from outside," she said.
Referring to India's position on the Israel-Gaza conflict, she said there have been conflicting interpretations in sections of the media and said "on such a sensitive issue, there is no room for confusion or misunderstanding".
"Let me repeat, and underline, once again: There is no change in India's policy of extending strong support to the Palestinian cause, while maintaining good relations with Israel.
"India is deeply concerned at the loss of large number of civilian lives in Gaza. We have called on both sides to exercise maximum restraint and work towards a comprehensive resolution of the Palestinian issue. Apart from strong political support to the Palestinian cause at international, regional and bilateral levels, India has been contributing budgetary, economic and developmental assistance to Palestine and its people," she said.
The external affairs minister added, "In these times of challenge and ongoing transitions happening in various Arab countries, the need for a constructive dialogue has never been greater."
The day-long symposium was attended by delegates from several Arab nations like Iraq, Egypt, Bahrain Qatar, Kuwait, Lebanon and Palestine.
Stressing the NDA government's unflinching commitment to sustain and expand relations with the Arab world, she said, "We see West Asia as part of our extended neighbourhood."
Swaraj said the 7-million strong Indian diaspora in the region have been a "bridge-builder and economic connector" between the two sides and send more than USD 40 billion in remittances annually.
"Economic ties are complemented with enhanced two-way flow of people between the two sides. There are 700 flights a week between India and UAE alone," she said.
MEA spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said the symposium has been organised to help bridge the gap between media of the two sides.
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