Manama, January 24
India and the Arab League on Sunday vowed to combat terrorism and called for developing a strategy to “eliminate” its sources and extremism, including its funding, as External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj made a strong pitch for delinking religion from terrorism.
While addressing the 1st Ministerial Meeting of Arab-India Cooperation Forum here in the Bahraini capital, she also warned that those who “silently sponsor” terror groups could end up being used by them, in an apparent jibe at Pakistan.
“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,” Swaraj told some 14 Foreign Ministers of the 22-member Arab League grouping, with its Secretary General Nabil El Araby in attendance.
She said that today’s meeting marks a “turning point” for India-Arab relations, while pointing out that “we are also at a major turning point in history when the forces of terrorism and violent extremism are seeking to destabilise societies and inflict incalculable damage to our cities, our people and our very social fabric”.
“Equally, we must delink religion from terror. 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,” said Swaraj, who arrived here yesterday on a two-day visit.
The two sides condemned terrorism in all its forms and manifestations and rejected associating terrorism with any religion, culture or ethnic group.
They emphasised the need for concerted regional and international efforts to combat terrorism and to address its causes and to develop a strategy to eliminate the sources of terrorism and extremism including its funding, as well as combating organised cross-border crime.
In the ‘Manama Declaration’, the countries affirmed the need to achieve a “comprehensive and permanent solution” to the Palestine issue and called for implementation of the two-state principle on the establishment of an independent and sovereign Palestine State with East Jerusalem as its capital, living peace side by side with Israel.
She cited “India’s model of unity in diversity” as an example for the world to counter indoctrination and radicalisation.
Her reference to India’s religious and cultural diversity at the world stage assumes significance as it comes in the backdrop of the intolerance debate that had raged recently in the country, with many writers, artists and civil society members expressing alarm over the issue.
“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.
“In every corner of my country, the music of azaan welcomes the dawn, followed by the chime of a Hanuman temple’s bells, followed by the melody of Guru Granth Sahib being recited by priests in a gurdwara, followed by the peal of church bells every Sunday,” she said.
“This philosophy is not just a construct of our Constitution, adopted in 1950; it is the essence of our ancient belief that the world is family,” she asserted.
Swaraj, in her speech, also quoted from the Quran, saying that faith harmony is the message of Holy Quran as well.
“I will quote only two verses: La ikra fi al deen (Let there be no compulsion in religion) and La qum deen o qum wa il ya deen (Your faith for you, and my faith for me),” she said in her address to the key Arab nations.
She stressed that dangers of radicalisation and indoctrination cannot be ignored.
“We have seen repeatedly that terrorism does not respect national borders. It seeks to subvert societies through its pernicious doctrine of a clash of civilisations,” Swaraj said.
“The only antidote to this violent philosophy is the path of peace, tolerance and harmony, a path that was illustrated centuries ago by Buddha and Mahavira and which was taken into the modern age by the Father of our nation Mahatma Gandhi. As he famously said, ‘an eye for an eye ends up making the whole world blind’,” she said.
Before wrapping up her second visit to Bahrain as the External Affairs Minister, Swaraj also called on Prime Minister Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa.
She also held a bilateral meeting with Saudi Foreign Minister Adel bin Ahmed Al-Jubeir and discussed an entire gamut of bilateral ties.
During the ministerial, the countries condemned the attacks against Saudi Arabia’s embassy in Tehran, and its Consulate General in Mashhad in Iran, which resulted in “intrusions into the diplomatic and consular premises, causing serious damage, with Iranian authorities bearing full responsibility for not protecting the diplomatic premises”.
Swaraj’s strong push for anti-terror cooperation comes at a time when there have been a spate of terror attacks across the globe from the Paris carnage and the Pathankot airbase assault to the blasts in Indonesia as terrorism has risen as one of the most significant challenges of the world.
“As the spectre of terrorism and religious hatred raises its ugly head across the world, particularly in those cherished cities of history, it is time once again to reach back in time and redeem the essence of our civilisational spirit. We must pledge to halt the physical violence that has spread like a plague,” Swaraj said.
She stressed on the need for equally addressing the violence in “our minds, a poison that has been spread by terror groups, harnessing the power of modern technology and social media platforms to infect our youth – those ideologies and beliefs that regard one’s own brother as a stranger, one’s own mother as accursed”.
“We should not underestimate the power of this illusion, clothed in a false interpretation of faith,” she asserted.
Swaraj also highlighted the importance of the passage of the Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism in the United Nations, saying it will remove a “significant lacuna” in the global community’s fight against this menace.
“We, who represent the stable and civilised world, must meet the challenge, or we risk destroying the most precious inheritance of our forefathers,” Swaraj said.
“But not only do we need to condemn all acts of terrorism but we need to join hands regionally and globally to remove the scourge of terrorism completely,” she said.
Stating that today’s meeting marked a “turning point” for India-Arab relations, she said that nations were experiencing a major turning point in history as well when the forces of terrorism and violent extremism are seeking to destabilise societies and inflict incalculable damage to cities, people and the very social fabric.
“Ever since the NDA government assumed office in 2014, we have paid special attention to our ties with the Arab world and we have also had extensive engagements with various high level visits,” she said and referred to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “path-breaking” visit to the UAE, the first by an Indian Prime Minister to the country in 34 years.
“For so long, the ties that bind India and the Arab world have provided prosperity, enhanced wisdom and enriched our civilisations. It is therefore imperative more than ever before that we stand together and recognise the danger to our world for what it is,” Swaraj said.
Swaraj said the ministerial meeting was aimed at giving a new shape, direction and energy to the centuries-old relations between India and the Arab world.
“Today, we have the opportunity of translating the vision of India-Arab solidarity into concrete avenues of cooperation,” she said.
Noting that beyond facing the common challenge of terrorism, India-Arab ties now cover a whole host of sectors, Swaraj said, “We have substantial common interests in the fields of trade and investment, energy and security, culture and Diaspora. Today the Arab world is collectively India’s largest trading partner with bilateral trade crossing $180 billion. We source 60% of our oil and gas requirements from West Asia, making this region a pillar of our energy 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,” the minister said.
Swaraj also highlighted that over the last six decades India has made rapid strides in economic development which has placed it at the forefront of the global revolution in information technology, pharmaceuticals, and cutting edge research in the areas of nanotechnology and biotechnology.
Asserting that at a time of global economic slowdown, India has emerged as a bright spot for the world economy, she said India is the fastest growing major economy in the world.
The next India–Arab Partnership Conference in Oman this year can be a real game changer in terms of deepening the economic partnership between the two sides, she said.
Swaraj also highlighted the strong bonds shared between the peoples of India and the Arab world.
“Over 7 million Indians reside in this region and there are 700 flights a week between India and UAE alone! A vast number of people in the Arab world enjoy our films, listen to our music and relish our cuisine,” she said.
In her address, Swaraj also evoked the civilisational links between India and the Arab world.
She concluded with the words of famous Egyptian poet Ahmed Shawky, a friend of Rabindranth Tagore, who once remarked that “the revolution of souls severs our chains, and that the revolution of minds removes mountains. Through the friendship of our civilisations, through the partnership of our nations, I am confident that we can move mountains in our common quest for a safer and more prosperous world.”
The Arab League comprises of Egypt, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Yemen, Jordan, Syria, Libya, Sudan, Morocco, Tunisia, Kuwait, Algeria, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Mauritania, Somalia, Palestine, Djibouti, and Comoros. — PTI