India and Bahrain on Saturday vowed to strengthen their ties in key areas like trade and counter-terrorism besides signing an agreement on the transfer of sentenced persons as External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj held talks with her Bahraini counterpart.
Swaraj, who is in Bahrain for a two-day visit to attend the first ministerial meeting of the India-Arab League Cooperation Forum to be held on Sunday, held “wide-ranging” discussions with Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa.
After the talks, the two leaders signed the agreement on the transfer of sentenced persons. According to the pact, once an expatriate has been sentenced in the other country, the sentence can be served in the country of origin.
In a special gesture, Khalid also received Swaraj at the Bahrain International Airport upon her arrival. Immediately after landing, Swaraj headed to the Bahrain International Air Show.
On the sidelines of the air show at Sakhir Airbase, Swaraj also called on Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa. King Hamad, who received her at an international air show, as both of them watched India’s indigenously developed Dhruv helicopters and Tejas Light Combat Aircraft perform aerobatics in the skies.
In the evening, Swaraj held comprehensive talks with Khalid as they vowed to boost ties between the two nations.
“Both sides discussed the possibilities of also concluding the pending agreement,” Secretary East Anil Wadhwa told reporters after the talks.
“The Double Taxation Avoidance agreement is something Bahrain would like to see happen with India and India would like to see an MoU on defence cooperation with Bahrain. Bahrain is also interested in this agreement...both sides are working towards that,” he said.
Asked if counter-terrorism was discussed, Wadhwa said, “Whenever India and Bahrain meet, this is an issue that is always discussed, security cooperation in the region and how both sides can contribute to each other’s security. India and Bahrain have cooperated really well recently in this field and this cooperation will continue.”
On being asked if India and Bahrain vowed to strengthen ties in security, counter-terrorism and trade, he said, it can be “summed up” in that way as there was a discussion on all the three areas.
Swaraj also visited the India pavilion at the air show where the scientists gave the minister a briefing on Tejas.
The Tejas flight was hailed by officials present as a “historic event” as the country hopes to explore potential export opportunities.
Wadhwa said Bahrain was facing a “crunch” due to the oil situation of the world and was looking to diversify its economy. In that context, India invited the Bahraini side to participate in India’s flagship Make in India programme.
Bahrain appreciated the Indian community’s contribution to the Bahraini economy and hoped that the flow of workers from the country would continue, he added.
In another gesture, Khalid on Saturday accompanied Swaraj to a temple in the ‘Little India’ area of the Bahraini capital.
After their talks, both the leaders accompanied by their respective delegations visited Shrinath temple as hundreds of Indian expatriates gathered to welcome them.
Swaraj and Khalid made their way to the temple passing through the by-lanes of the ‘Little India’ amid Punjabi music and drumbeats.
The two leaders stayed at the temple for about 20 minutes.
Such a massive crowd had gathered at the temple that a golf cart had to be brought through the by-lanes to take the leaders out of the area.
“We are honoured to have the ministers of the two countries visit the temple and hope further strengthening of bilateral ties as a large Indian diaspora lives here,” temple secretary Mahesh Bhatia said.
“It is a rare gesture on the part of Bahrain foreign minister to accompany her (Swaraj) to the temple and visit the Little India area,” an official said.
A day before the key India-Arab League ministerial meeting, Wadhwa said, “External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj is in Manama primarily for the ministerial meeting which has to take place as part of the executive programme of the India-Arab League process. This is the first such meeting that will take place tomorrow.”
“In preparation for that the foreign minister of Bahrain was very thankful that this process has exceeded all expectations. In fact, it has evoked a certain interest in the
Arab world towards the relationship with India which can be taken forward in at least nine or 10 different areas. For the coming years, India and Bahrain are going to work together to make sure the Arab League and the India process in all these 10 fields is working satisfactorily,” he said.
The meeting comes amid heightened tensions between political heavyweights Saudi Arabia and Iran.
Asked if there was any discussion between Swaraj and the Bahraini leadership, Wadhwa replied in the negative.
The India-Arab League ministerial meeting on Sunday comes over a year after the two sides held their first senior officials meeting in New Delhi in November, 2014.
A number of wide-ranging issues from terrorism, security to tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran over the execution of a Shia cleric in the Kingdom are expected to be discussed.
India and the Arab League are expected to deliberate on the whole gamut of bilateral issues including trade and investment, energy and culture among others.
India’s trade with most of the Arab countries has grown steadily in the last few years. The Gulf region accounts for over 60 per cent of India’s oil and gas requirement.
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.