India, an aspirant for the permanent membership of UN Security Council, on Friday sought the crucial support of 53 African countries in bringing about reforms in the world body.
New Delhi also impressed upon Africa to join hands with it in the fight against terror, tackle climate change and to ensure that the vision of Doha round of WTO trade talks as a developmental round becomes a reality.
In comments reflecting India's growing interest in the African continent, External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee said India and Africa are "natural allies" and "we eagerly look forward to a comprehensive engagement with Africa".
He emphasised that Africa has always enjoyed an "important position" in India's foreign policy priorities as apart from common civilisational heritage, "we are united by common ideas, ideals and icons".
Noting that reform of the UN remains high on India's agenda, he said "we seek the support of African countries for overall reforms, including democratisation and expansion of the UNSC in both permanent and non-permanent categories". The support of African countries is crucial for India's bid for a permanent seat in the Security Council.
Addressing the valedictory session of 4th India-Africa Project Partnership Conclave, he also spoke about the threat of terrorism and the need for "exercising zero tolerance" and enhancing international cooperation to fight the menace.
"India looks forward to enhancing its cooperation with African countries on this matter, both bilaterally and in various multilateral fora. The conclusion of a Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism is important in this regard," he said.
With trade ties between India and Africa improving, Mukherjee urged African countries to encourage Indian industry which are already making robust investments in sectors like horticulture, agriculture, power generation and mining.
Two-way trade between India and Africa has registered a five-fold increase in the last five years from $ 5 billion in 2001-02 to $ 25 billion in 2006-07.
He also drew Africa's attention to the strides made by India in manufacturing and technology sector in the context of the enormous demand in Africa for infrastructure technologies, products, engineering services and capacity building.
"We have offered the benefits of our experience to African countries and are committed to continue our support in areas of our strength, including human resource development and capacity building programmes," he said.
On the India-Africa Forum Summit to be held here next month, Mukherjee expressed confidence that it would give renewed thrust to centuries-old partnership.
He said India has in recent years extended many bilateral and regional lines of credit on concessional terms to African countries, most of which have been used by countries for developmental projects.
"We are in a position to do more in this field and our focus will be on fostering sustainable socio-economic development in our partner countries," he said.
"Our ties with Africa are special and we will continue to work with Africa and the international community to create a better world -- a world free of terror, poverty, disease, ignorance and inequality," he said.