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India Can Play A Role In Bringing S Arabia, Iran To Dialogue: Veteran Diplomat

New Delhi:  Veteran diplomat Talmeez Ahmad, who has served for long in West Asian countries,  has made a  strong case for India playing a role in bringing estranged neighbours Saudi Arabia and Iran at talking point, saying vital Indian interests would be at stake in case of conflagration between the two Muslim nations.

"I am not talking about mediation, but some behind the scene diplomacy to make the two estranged countries talk to each other,''Mr Ahmad said while answering questions from the audience during the  annual lecture organised by the Indian Association of Foreign Affairs Correspondents here . The topic of the lecture was 'India and the Islamic  World: New Challenges in Turbulent Times'.

The veteran diplomat said he had been pushing for this initiative by India for quite some years, but there were a lot of people who would simply rubbish it saying that India did not have a clout  in the region, it did not have any experience, it had not done it before etc.

In Mr Ahmad's view no other country either West Asian or European has so much credentials  with  Saudi Arabia and Iran for taking up such an initiative. He pointed out that there were eight million Indians in the Gulf each of whom supported four persons back home,  remitting 35 billion dollars  annually, thus benefiting in total 40 millions Indians.

In such a scenario,  one just could not say that India would not care if these two countries went to war, because the future of these eight million people would be at stake. Besides the livelihood  of its people, India's  security in energy and so many other respects hinged upon peace in the Gulf, he said.

In fact, he said there was a strong desire in these countries for India to play a political role in the region. He pointed  out to the joint statement of India and Saudi Arabia issued during Prime Minister Narendra Modi's 2016 visit to the Arab country which said the countries wanted their partnership to go beyond their bilateral relations. '' We will  contribute to a regional order that reflects  our shared interest in stability, prosperity and tolerance,'' it said.

Mr Ahmad pointed out that similar intent was expressed in the joint statement that was issued during the visit of UAE crown prince  last year. Mr Ahmad's remarks come  in the backdrop of  India's close relations with Saudi Arabia  getting strong  reflection  in the series of high-level visits between the two countries over the last two year. After the just concluded visit of  Iranian President Hassan Rouhani,  Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud is also expected to visit India later this year.

Mr Ahmad  said it was high time that India did something substantial to encourage these countries to start dialogue to lessen the tension that threatens the peace  in the region with disturbing implications for India. Answering another question, the veteran diplomat rejected the view that India's growing proximity with Israel might prove to be a stumbling block for its relations with the West Asian countries.

He  pointed out that some of the Arab countries like Saudi Arabia themselves were engaged with with Israel , and  even Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat encourged  India to play some role in resolving the conflict with Israel.

Mr Ahmad said  India's relations with Israel were something not unique to the Modi government. It all started in 1990s. Mr Modi had in fact not changed  anything qualitatively  on the ground with respect to West Asia, he said, adding that the present government had rather made the engagements more robust.

Mr Ahmad, however, also said that today there was a  divide between India's external engagement with the Islamic world and the world of Islam at home,  meaning that the composite culture of the country  was under threat and valuable heritage of a thousand years of shared history between Hindus and Muslims, which was more a cultural, ethnic and linguistic engagement was being disastrously seen through the prism of religion.

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