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'India has much to offer Arab world in transition'

Posted on Feb 13, 06:28PM | IANS

New Delhi, Feb 13 : India has much to offer to a West Asia in transition even as the process of change in the region "is far from over", Defence Minister A.K. Antony said Wednesday.

"At a time when several West Asian nations are in a state of transition, India can share its experience with the governments and civil societies," Anony said while inaugurating the 15th Asian Security Conference on "Emerging Trends In West Asia: Regional and Global Implications.

He did not elaborate on what India could offer some of these countries that have emerged from the Arab Spring, though some countries like Egypt and Tunisia have sought help in organising free elections and other democratic practices.

The conference, organized by defence ministry-funded think tank Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA), is being attended by participants from most West Asian countries, as well as the US, Britain and Australia.

From India's point of view, Antony said, "long-standing conflicts in the region cannot be ignored", as the region was not only "critical to India" but also "vital for our energy security" as it the source of nearly two-thirds of our hydro-carbon imports".

He also noted that India's trade with the region is expanding. During 2011-12 the country's trade with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) was more than USD 145 billion.

"Nearly 6.5 million Indians live and work in different countries of this region. Their remittances support nearly 40-50 million families in India and at the same time contribute to local prosperity," Antony said.

He further cautioned that the journey ahead for the Arab nations "will be long, tortuous and full of unexpected twists and turns", as new political equations emerging in Iraq and Afghanistan have "heightened regional and global uncertainties".

To this extent, the "the process of transformation (in the region) is far from complete and on the contrary, has just begun", Antony said, adding: "While the fundamental forces have got a fillip, democracy is yet to be consolidated".

In his welcome speech, IDSA Director General Arvind Gupta said that the old order in West Asian countries was slowly giving way to the new. "Popular protests that began in December 2010 in Tunisia spread to several other countries in the region, bringing in hope of reform and change," Gupta said, adding: "Two years down, the promise of spring in the West Asia North Africa (WANA) region has given rise to forecasts of long winters and more turmoil.

"Regimes and governments have changed in a few countries, while in others, reforms are on hold; and in some, a few adjustments to the political systems have been made. "Overall, this is a period of transition and uncertainty," Gupta said.

The ASC provides an opportunity for policy makers, scholars and security analysts, both from India and abroad, to share their views on the security challenges facing the continent.