Energy, infrastructure new bases of India-Gulf ties: Pranab

May 13th, 2008 - 12:01 am ICT by admin  

By Aroonim Bhuyan
Abu Dhabi, May 12 (IANS) Energy security and development of infrastructure are the foundations of India’s new terms of engagement with the Gulf region, according to External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee. Stating that India needed to maintain high economic growth rates every year for the coming 15-20 years, Mukherjee said: “Two of the most important prerequisites in this regard for us are energy security and development of infrastructure.”

He was speaking on ‘India’s Foreign Policy and India-Gulf Relations: Meeting the Challenges of the 21st Century’ at the Emirates Centre for Strategic Studies and Research (ECSSR) here Monday evening.

“India needs $500 billion in resources to meet specific targets in infrastructure development set out in our 11th Five-Year Plan. We also need to expand electric power production six to seven times between now and 2032,” he said.

“It is here that I see the foundations of India’s new terms of engagement with the Gulf region.”

According to Mukherjee, as a result of high oil prices and prudent fiscal policies, the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) have generated extraordinary investible resources.

“More importantly, they are today looking beyond their traditional partners in the West; in fact, the ‘Look East’ policy is important today to all the GCC countries. I am happy to see that all of them see India as an important partner in this regard,” he stated.

Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE comprise the six GCC nations.

As for energy cooperation between the region and India, the minister called for cross investments in each other’s energy sectors.

“Indian companies could participate in exploration and development projects in the Gulf, while Gulf companies could invest in India’s downstream and petrochemical sectors,” he said, adding that there was a need for trained personnel in the hydrocarbon sector.

“Thus, we can collaborate in the development of educational and training institutions, not only covering the technological aspects of the industry, but also elated areas such as health, safety and environment sensitivity.”

Mentioning that India has been a reliable human resource provider for the Gulf countries in the last 35 years to meet their requirements of professionals, technicians and labour, he said the profile of the Indian community in the region has changed according to changing times.

“Twenty years ago, the Indian community (in the Gulf) was blue collar to the extent of 80-90 percent, with a negligible percentage of professionals; today, it is only 65 percent blue collar, with 15-20 percent being professionals,” he said.

There are around 5.5 million expatriate Indians across the Gulf.

Mukherjee, however, said that relations between India and the Gulf nations were taking shape in a disorderly, insecure and extremely uncertain regional environment.

Stating that Palestine continued to be a matter of abiding concern, he said, “India continues to extend it full support to the Palestinian people in realizing their aspirations for a sovereign, independent, viable and united state living side by side a peace with the state of Israel.”

“I believe that the reasonable and pragmatic ‘Arab Peace Plan’, which incorporates the collective wisdom of the Arab leadership, provides a valid basis to address the issue of Palestine, balancing Israel’s need for security with the just aspirations of the Palestinian people for statehood.”

As for Iraq, the minister said the US-Iran-Iraq talks were most important in this context.

“India has conveyed its willingness to continue its assistance for the reconstruction of Iraq in all fields, both bilaterally and through multilateral efforts,” he said.

Referring to Iranian President Mahmood Ahmedinejad’s visit to India last month, he said: “This visit reflected our traditionally close relations. We see Iran as a major economic partner, particularly in the area of energy security.”

He added India fully supported Iran’s attempts to develop its knowledge base pertaining to the harnessing of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. However, it has to, in accordance with its own international commitments and obligations, satisfy the international community that its programme is indeed peaceful.”

While welcoming the revival of the democratic process in Pakistan, Mukherjee, however, expressed concern about the strength of extremist elements in that country, who “are not only a source of danger to neighbouring countries such as India and Afghanistan, but are also capable of severely wounding the body politic of Pakistan itself”.

Concluding, he lauded the UAE’s growth as a unique political entity in West Asia and said, “India is proud to have participated in this extraordinary developmental effort that has placed the UAE in the vanguard of nations in terms of economic achievement.”

He also mentioned the revival of the India-UAE Joint Commission after 13 years following the visit of Vice President and Prime Minister of UAE and Ruler of Dubai Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Makhtoum to India last year.

Monday’s event was attended, among others, by India’s Ambassador to the UAE Talmiz Ahmad and ECSSR director general Jamal Al-Suwaidi.

Mukherjee, who arrived here Monday morning on a two-day official trip to the UAE, was scheduled to meet his counterpart Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan later in the evening.

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