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Inaugural Address at the 8th Asian Security Conference

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  • Hon'ble Defence Minister, Shri Pranab Mukherjee
    January 30, 2006

    Excellencies, Distinguished Participants at the 8th Asian Security Conference, Ladies and Gentlemen,

    I am indeed honoured to meet this august gathering of eminent experts and to inaugurate the 8th Asian security Conference of IDSA. Since its inception in January 1999, this Conference has served as a forum for free and open discussion by security analysts, experts and scholars from different parts of the world. Every year IDSA selects a specific theme concerning Asian security for in-depth discussion. This year's theme for the Conference, "Changing Security Dynamic in West Asia: Relevance for the Post 9-11 Systemic", is particularly relevant since growth and India's security are closely linked to that of the West Asian region. As a member of the international community, India has been deeply concerned about the vicious cycle of violence and counter-violence and the consequent deterioration of the security situation in West Asia. It has also repeatedly called for de-escalation of tensions.

    I am happy that the Conference organisers have expanded the scope of the Conference by including the North African region. The socio-political and cultural continuum that characterises the security environment of the entire region, extending from Western Sahara till Iran, in fact, demands such an extensive coverage.

    Throughout human history, trade and cultural linkages between the people of Indian subcontinent and the region which we now call West Asia, have ensured a lasting relationship. This relationship continues and, in fact, vigorous efforts are being made to deepen and strengthen it.

    Much is made out of the theory of "Clash of Civilizations", advanced by Prof. Samuel P. Huntington in his famous book. But such theories are predicated on division of the world in narrowly defined ideological terms. Our own experience as a functioning, multi-religious, pluralistic democracy completely debunks such divisive theories. Indeed, our interaction with the West Asian region has been traditionally warm and marked by cooperation and mutual enrichment, leading to cross-fertilisation of cultures. Ideas have been exchanged in the fields of mathematics, astronomy and medicine; and literary texts have been translated or transliterated for mutual benefit. The influence of Persian and Arabic learning in India, and the impact of the architectural styles and aesthetics of West Asia, are too obvious to be missed today. The birth of Urdu, the language of the Bollywood, and its influence on Hindi and other Indian languages symbolises the creative cross-fertilisation between India and West Asia.

    The unceasing stream of mutual influences has contributed to the growth of an amazing interweave of cultures in the region. In the increasingly inter-dependent world today, there are easily discernible civilizational and cultural links among nations- stretching from the coast of Mediterranean to the Bay of Bengal. These remind us of the history that has gone into the making of the culture of interdependence that we emphasise so much today. We all live in turbulent and even dangerous times today. In this turbulent and tense phase of our times, it is appropriate for us to emphasise the commonalities between our cultures and peoples. We should work together to preserve and sustain this invaluable historical legacy.

    Historians have pointed out that there were trade links between the cities of Mohenjodaro and Harappa and Mesopotamia nearly 4000 years ago. The trade links between India and West Asia were seasonal and influenced by the monsoon winds. These links had developed between the Malabar Coast in India and the mouth of the Red Sea, as well as between other port cities in India and ports in the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Peninsula. There is evidence to show that there was trade in cotton cloth, spices, perfumes and handicrafts between India and the West Asian region from around 200 BC. The Arabs traded more than a thousand years ago with South West India for spices and carried them back to Europe.

    It is also well known that people-to-people contact between West Asia and India continued over the centuries. In the post-colonial period, close political relations between India and other countries in the region gave us a common voice in shaping the global agenda through Non-alignment, characterised by principles of equality, rejection of colonialism, and independence in decision-making and action. These close relations also facilitated dialogue to resolve differences.

    The unprecedented revolution in communication technology has activated cross-State linkages among non-State actors. Intra-State conflicts have the capacity now to snowball into international crises. This makes it necessary to isolate the factors causing international insecurity today and work in a cooperative manner to make our societies safer and more secure. As the traditional concept of militaristic state security is yielding ground to a more comprehensive notion of security, we now need to identify non-traditional threats to security.

    Given the vast reserves of hydrocarbon in the region, West Asia has emerged as the principal source of energy in the world. Once described as a 'marginal crescent' in world politics, it has made its mark as a critical pivot in the international economy today. The entire world, thus, has a stake in the security and stability of the region.

    India has an abiding interest in peace and prosperity of the region. There are about 3.5 million workers from India in the Gulf countries. The remittances they send home are an important source of foreign exchange for us. Our oil imports from the region account for nearly 60% of our total crude oil imports. As regards our exports, the region is the third largest destination for Indian goods, behind only the EU and North America. Exports to the region account for nearly 16% of our global exports.

    India has always remained willing to share its experience with the countries in the Gulf and Middle East region. Economic reforms initiated in our country since the early nineties have led to a robust growth rate of over 7% in the GDP. This has been fuelled in large measure by ever growing manufacturing base in the country, alongside the world leadership position achieved in the areas of cutting edge technology. If the world has already witnessed the phenomenal growth of I.T and computer software industry in India, the coming years are expected to see India clocking similar, if not greater, thrust in the biotechnology and other development defining sectors. I have dwelt on this issue at some length since in the present times, this aspect has increasingly begun to define relations between countries and peoples. I am happy to note that these relations are poised to grow even stronger in the coming years with new opportunities having been made available, for flow of investments, both ways.

    Our relationship with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) has been growing. We have a mutual commitment to get engaged proactively. We have signed a Framework Agreement for Economic Cooperation with the GCC. We have also intensified our relations with all the key countries of the region. The King of Saudi Arabia has just concluded a historic visit to India. We have an ongoing dialogue mechanism with the Arab League and the possibility of further cooperation between India and Arab League Members, is being continually explored.

    In recent years, the menace of international terrorism has been causing increasing concern to the world at large. The depredations of this scourge are not restricted to this country or that country or any specific region alone. We are witness every day to the growth of ever new global linkages amongst terrorist and radical groups. While it took the tragic events of 9/11 to focus world's attention to the threat posed by international terrorism, India has been a victim of this kind of terrorism for much longer. The international community can no longer afford to find excuses for not dealing with this problem in a concerted manner. Our fight has to be directed not only against those who perpetrate the terrorist crimes but also those more powerful interests which harbour and support terrorist elements for their narrow and short term, but ill-conceived, gains.

    Commitment to the Palestinian cause has been a bedrock of our foreign policy even before we gained independence. In a cable sent to Mufti of Jerusalem on 4th Sept 1937, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, who became our first Prime Minister after independence, had affirmed, "The Indian National Congress sends you greetings and assurance of full solidarity in the struggle for Palestine Independence". In the post-independence period we have remained fully supportive of the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people for a homeland of their own. We believe that the conflict can be resolved only through meaningful dialogue and not by force; particularly since Arabs and Jews have lived together in peace for long. A just, comprehensive and durable peace in the region can only be achieved through negotiations on the basis of relevant UN Security Council resolutions as well as the "Land for Peace" principle. In this context, we support the 'Quartet Road Map' which has been accepted by both sides.

    India welcomes the Gaza disengagement and hopes that the resurgence of violence will soon give way to peaceful negotiations. India has consistently urged an end to violence from all sides. We look forward to further progress in the peace process that would bring about a just and peaceful solution within a reasonable time frame, leading to a sovereign, independent State of Palestine with well-defined and secured borders, living at peace with the State of Israel. We also remain ready to join in the efforts of the international community for capacity building of the Palestinian people and for strengthening their administrative and democratic institutions.

    Our people have traditionally enjoyed friendship and cordiality with the people of Iraq. We feel their pain and suffering and deeply empathize with them in these trying times. We are ready to respond to the needs of the Iraqi people for stability, security, political progress and economic reconstruction. We have committed US $20 million in assistance to the Iraqi people in response to the UN Secretary General's appeal in 2004 and, at the Donors' Conference held in Madrid in October 2004, we further committed an additional amount of US$10 million to the two Iraqi Trust Funds. We distributed milk powder worth US $ 1.2 million to Iraqi children through the World Food Programme in 2004 and have sent foodgrains to Iraq in 2005. We have also expressed our willingness to participate in the reconstruction of Iraqi petro-industry in future.

    We believe that the UN has a crucial role to play in the process of political and economic reconstruction of Iraq. As such we welcomed the unanimous adoption of Resolution 1546 by the UN Security Council, on June 8, 2004. We also remain fully supportive of the right of the Iraqi people to freely determine their political future and to exercise control over their natural resources. We welcomed the Interim Government of Iraq as the first step towards transfer of full sovereignty to the people of Iraq. Only a fully inclusive political process leading to a truly representative Government in Iraq can effectively deal with challenges of fighting insurgency and rebuilding of the economy and it is in this context that we have welcomed the recent elections in Iraq. The priority before the international community now is to ensure gradual return to peace and normalcy in Iraq. A stable and peaceful Iraq is vital for the stability of the entire region, more so for India, since continued instability in Iraq can have dangerous consequences.

    West Asia stands at the crossroads of history today. The ongoing turbulence in West Asia will have a major impact on the global security system. With its energy potential and the rest of the world's critical dependence on its resources, the region will continue to attract international attention in years to come. Large and growing extra-regional military presence in West Asia, and the rising constituency of radical religious groups threatening to assert their subversive strength against the States, will continue to be of great concern to the international community.

    We have all seen the disastrous consequences of an untamed tide of violence in the region. We will have to cooperate with one another to stem this tide and find more effective ways of addressing the root causes of such violence. The main task awaiting the international community is to bring lasting peace and security to the region.

    Distinguished Delegates,

    The concerns I have briefly touched upon are included in the comprehensive agenda of the Conference. I am sure, during the course of the next two days you will deliberate on the issues defining the security dynamics of West Asia and its impact on the international political system. I have no doubt, your deliberations will provide valuable inputs for the strategic community in India and abroad, and help us in securing peace and prosperity for the people of West Asia and the world.

    I would like to conclude with a quotation from our revered national poet Gurudev Rabindra Nath Tagore, He is conscious about our disagreements, our difficulties and our sufferings; but an eternal optimist that he was, he urges the mankind to move on and to strive to achieve happiness and peace. "The current of the world has its boundaries, otherwise, it could have no existence, but its purpose is not shown in the boundaries which restrain it, but in its movement, which is toward perfection. The wonder is not that there should be obstacles and sufferings in this world, but that there should be law and order, beauty and joy, goodness and love."

    Thank you.