India will be proactive in securing interests in Middle East: Antony

Last Updated: Wed, Feb 13, 2013 11:20 hrs

New Delhi, Feb 13 (IANS) Defence Minister A. K. Antony Wednesday said India will be extremely tactful and proactive in safeguarding its strategic interests in Middle East, which in recent months has seen tumultuous changes.

"India can ill afford to remain aloof from the transformative changes in its immediate and extended neighborhood," Antony said, addressing the 15th Asian Security Conference organised by Indian Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA) here.

He voiced deep concern over the ongoing violence in Syria and said the developments in the region had the potential of changing the regional and geopolitical landscape.

"The journey ahead is full of unexpected twists and turns. While the existing structures are changing, new ones have not yet been consolidated," he added.

And as the region is critical to India's energy security and economic growth, "we have to be extremely tactful in safeguarding our interests while dealing with the problems".

Two-thirds of India's oil imports come from the region and about 6.5 million Indians live and work there.

Adding that India's trade with the region is expanding and during 2011-12 the trade with the Gulf Cooperation Council countries was more than $145 billion, he said that recent developments had complicated the security situation in the region.

The minister voiced concern about the safety and security of Indians working in the region.

In 2011, India evacuated nearly 19,000 Indians working in Libya.

In 2012, India received $70 billion in remittances from foreign countries and a large portion of that came from the Gulf region. These remittances support nearly 40-50 million families in India and contribute to local prosperity.

Antony pointed out that one could learn a few lessons from the Arab Spring, which he listed as follows: No government or regime can ignore the popular demands anymore; voice of the youths is universal and it echoes change; the process of transformation is far from complete; and the social media has emerged as a potent force.

Antony concluded by saying that the deliberations and discussions that would take place during the three-day conference would enrich the understanding of issues that impact not only the region but the global order as well.

Earlier welcoming the delegates to the international conference, IDSA director general Arvind Gupta underscored the complex nature of the recent turmoil in the Middle East.

The events had transformed various regimes and governments into a state of flux, raising questions about the period of transition and uncertainty. And it is important to understand their implications, he said.

Gupta pointed out that the political vacuum in the states led to emergence of new forces adding that the Arab Spring has exacerbated the existing fault lines. This has been followed by a new round of violence which has spread to countries such as Syria, Libya, Egypt and Tunisia.

A number of distinguished speakers and strategic experts from the Middle East, North Africa, the United States, Britain, Europe, Australia, Pakistan, Japan and China are attending the conference.

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