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The Rediff Special/ Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi
Why Pranab's Libya visit is important
May 30, 2007
Its was a pleasant surprise for many when after 23 long years the Indian leadership visited Libya, the important and interesting African country with a booming economy.
With China having taken a headstart in in creatively engaging the African continent, External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee's recent visit to Libya has showed that India is also trying to revive and reaffirm its traditional ties with the African countries.
According to sources, India may sponsor a mega convention of African countries very soon, just like China.
On his visit, Mukherjee said the North African nation has very important role to play in promoting ties between Asia and Africa.
Libya, which is savouring and exploiting its' new-found friendship with the United States after the withdrawal of sanctions against it, is the important country that is opening up with some big business opportunities. India can thus enter new areas in bilateral ties.
When Mukherjee had an hour-long meeting with Libyan leader Col Muammar Al Gaddafi at his camp near the coastal town of Sirte, the two leaders had a lot to talk, particularly about the oil and petroleum sectors, as well as human resource development.
Indian IT graduates and entrepreneurs have a lot of scope in the post-sanctions Libya.
Col Gaddafi also reiterated his support to India's claim to be a member of the UNSC.
Mukherjee expressed India's desire to establish joint projects in the field of IT and invited Libyan students to India for attaining education.
To enhance the relations further and faster, Mukherjee handed over a letter from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh inviting Col Gaddafi to India.
"I think Mukherjee's visit was highly successful because Gaddafi is one of the important leaders of Africa who has given the continent a new and stronger identity. Gaddafi has inspired the African countries and has helped create the African Union replacing the Organisation of African Unity," Former diplomat Chinamay Gharekhan told rediff.com.
In 1984, Gharekhan accompanied the then prime minister Indira Gandhi on her visit to Libya, the last so visit by an Indian leader before Mukherjee's.
The new AU is focusing on the new businesses, better bargains for its raw materials, labour and rich natural resources, and is seeking investment and a better place in the world for Africa.
Decades ago, Libya, was a benefactor of Pakistan scientist A Q Khan's international network that illegally sold nuclear know-how. Because of its nuclear activities it had attracted the UN and US sanctions.
But lately, Libya has closed down its nuclear field and handed over the infrastructure to the US. Since then it has not looked back and is attracting investment for infrastructure.
Mukherjee's visit was too late but desired. As Asia and Europe are trying to carve out a new agenda, India is also keen to promote cooperation between Asia and Africa.
'India and Libya can play a major role in bringing Asia and Africa closer as Libya is the northern gate for Africa, and India is an active member seeking to play an essential role in Asia,' Col Gaddafi was quoted as saying by the official Jana news agency. He also said: 'The sky is the limit for cooperation between the two countries.'
"Col Gaddafi has his own idiosyncrasies but his heroes were Nehru and Nasser. He was a believer of Non-Aligned Movement. For India, which is looking for energy equity, Libya can be an important country," said Shashank, India's former Ambassador to Libya.
Shashank says, "To strengthen India's relation with the African Union, Libya is the important country to talk to. Also, it is a oil producing country that requires manpower in various sectors. India is in position to balance the interests of both countries."
Already, BHEL and major Indian oil [Get Quote] companies are in the Libyan markets and a large number of Indian professional are working in Libya.
The country where Sunni Muslims comprise 90 per cent of the population, has high regard for India's non-aligned diplomacy, says Shashank.
However, currently America is injecting investment in the country after the settlement of the nuclear issue.
In view of the resurgent Libyan economy, Mukherjee made sure to meet some top leaders of the financial world, too.
Since Africa is the new breeding ground of the world powers, Mukherjee thought it fit to bank upon India's traditional role in Africa's struggle.
In one of the meeting with businessmen he said, "India has unlimited interest to promote the historical friendship relations with Libya, and to broaden the prospects of cooperation between the two countries, specially in the economic, commercial, cultural, and joint investment fields."
He affirmed India's stances calling for UN reforms, the expansion of the UN Security Council, the activation and revival of the Non-alignment Movement, and its continuous support of the rights of the Palestinian people.
Shashank sums it up: "Libya is a unique country with majority Muslims living under a socialist regime. India and Libya share views on terrorism, too. Mukherjee's visit was important to connect with Africa."
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