India, Arab League vow to combat terror, sources of funding

The meeting, which was opened by Bahrain's Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa, culminated with the two sides issuing a joint statement - the Manama Declaration.

PTI| Updated: Jan 24, 2016, 23:07 PM IST

Manama: India and the Arab League on Sunday vowed to combat terrorism and called for developing a strategy to "eliminate" its sources and its funding as External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj made a strong pitch for delinking religion from terrorism.

While addressing the 1st Ministerial Meeting of Arab- India Cooperation Forum here in the Bahraini capital, she also warned that those who "silently sponsor" terror groups could end up being used by them, in an apparent jibe at Pakistan.

"Those who believe that silent sponsorship of such terrorist groups can bring rewards must realise that they have their own agenda; they are adept at using the benefactor more effectively than the sponsor has used them," Swaraj told some 14 Foreign Ministers of the 22-member Arab League grouping, with its Secretary General Nabil El Araby in attendance.

She said that today's meeting marks a "turning point" for India-Arab relations while pointing out that "we are also at a major turning point in history when the forces of terrorism and violent extremism are seeking to destabilise societies and inflict incalculable damage to our cities, our people and our very social fabric".

"Equally, we must delink religion from terror. The only distinction is between those who believe in humanity and those who do not. Terrorists use religion, but inflict harm on people of all faiths," said Swaraj, who arrived here yesterday on a two-day visit.

The meeting, which was opened by Bahrain's Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa, culminated with the two sides issuing a joint statement - the Manama Declaration.

The two sides discussed regional and global issues of mutual concern, including the Palestinian issue, developments in the Arab region and in South Asia, as well as counter-terrorism, Security Council reforms and nuclear disarmament.

The two sides condemned terrorism in all its forms and manifestations and rejected associating terrorism with any religion, culture or ethnic group.

They emphasised the need for concerted regional and international efforts to combat terrorism and to address its causes and to develop a strategy to eliminate the sources of terrorism and extremism including its funding, as well as combating organised cross-border crime, the Declaration stated.

In this context, the two sides affirmed their respect to the independence, sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity of Iraq and non-interference in its internal affairs and rejecting infringement of such principles, strongly condemned crimes committed by all terrorist organisations, especially those committed by ISIS.

They urged the international community to lend to the Iraqi government support on its war against terrorism.

Swaraj cited "India's model of unity in diversity" as an example for the world to counter indoctrination and radicalisation.

Her reference to India's religious and cultural diversity at the world stage assumes significance as it comes in the backdrop of the intolerance debate that had raged recently in the country, with many writers, artists and civil society members expressing an alarm over the issue.

"We in India have citizens who belong to every existing faith. Our Constitution is committed to the fundamental principle of faith-equality: the equality of all faiths not just before the law but also in daily behaviour.

"In every corner of my country, the music of the azaan welcomes the dawn, followed by the chime of a Hanuman temple's bells, followed by the melody of the Guru Granth Sahib being recited by priests in a gurdwara, followed by the peal of church bells every Sunday," she said.

"This philosophy is not just a construct of our Constitution, adopted in 1950; it is the essence of our ancient belief that the world is family," she said.

Swaraj, in her speech, also quoted from the Quran, saying that faith harmony is the message of the Holy Quran as well.

"I will quote only two verses: La ikra fi al deen (Let there be no compulsion in religion) and La qum deen o qum wa il ya deen (Your faith for you, and my faith for me)," she said in her address to the key Arab nations.

She stressed that dangers of radicalisation and indoctrination cannot be ignored.

"We have seen repeatedly that terrorism does not respect national borders. It seeks to subvert societies through its pernicious doctrine of a clash of civilisations," Swaraj said.

The ministerial meeting comes after the two sides held their second Senior Officials Meeting here yesterday morning.

The Arab League and India also stressed on the importance of cooperation between them in order to enhance confidence among regional countries and resolving conflicts, thereby bringing about peace and stability in the region.

The two sides also called for an "urgent reform" of the United Nations Security Council through expansion in both permanent and non-permanent membership to reflect contemporary reality.

They agreed that the current structure of the UN Security Council was not representative of a majority of the people of the world but continued to perpetuate a system that was "anachronistic".

The joint declaration said the India-Arab Cooperation Forum can play an important role in advancing the ties between the two sides and take their relations towards "capacious horizons".

The two sides affirmed the importance of supporting the reconstruction and stability in Afghanistan and expressed their support for a genuine Afghan-owned, Afghan-led and Afghan- controlled reconciliation process towards the emergence of a peaceful, stable and strong Afghanistan.

They expressed concern over the kidnapping of 39 Indian workers in Mosul in Iraq in June 2014 and three Indian workers in Sirte in Libya in June 2015. The Arab side expressed full solidarity with India in all efforts for their early release from captivity, the declaration said.

The Arab League and India supported the efforts of the UN Counter-Terrorism Committee and adoption of the Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism at the earliest.

"The Arab side aspires to an effective Indian role, in cooperation with Arab States, to enhance peace and security at the regional and international level," the declaration said.

The two sides discussed ways and means to enhance cooperation in economic, social and cultural fields.

Before wrapping up her second visit to Bahrain as the External Affairs Minister, Swaraj also called on Prime Minister Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa.

She also held a bilateral meeting with Saudi Foreign Minister Adel bin Ahmed Al-Jubeir and discussed an entire gamut of bilateral ties.

Swaraj's strong push for anti-terror cooperation comes at a time when there have been a spate of terror attacks across the globe from the Paris carnage and the Pathankot airbase assault to the blasts in Indonesia as terrorism has risen as one of the most significant challenges of the world.

"As the spectre of terrorism and religious hatred raises its ugly head across the world, particularly in those cherished cities of history, it is time once again to reach back in time and redeem the essence of our civilizational spirit. We must pledge to halt the physical violence that has spread like a plague," Swaraj said.

She stressed on the need for equally addressing the violence in "our minds, a poison that has been spread by terror groups, harnessing the power of modern technology and social media platforms to infect our youth ? those ideologies and beliefs that regard one's own brother as a stranger, one's own mother as accursed."

"We should not underestimate the power of this illusion, clothed in a false interpretation of faith," she asserted.

The joint statement, significantly, also made a reference to Iran that is not part of the grouping and condemned the attacks against Saudi Arabia's Embassy in Tehran in the backdrop of the rising tensions between the two countries over the execution of a Shia cleric in the Kingdom.

The two sides emphasised the importance that cooperative relations between Arab states and Iran be based on the principles of good neighbourliness, non-interference in internal affairs, respect of independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity, resolution of disputes through peaceful means, according to UN Charter and International Law, and refraining from use or threat of force.

The joint statement also called on Israel to end its occupation of the Palestinian "Arab" territories it seized in 1967 and dismantle all the settlements built there including the settlements erected in the occupied East Jerusalem on the basis that, according to the international Law, they are illegal and illegitimate.

It also called for the holding of an international conference for peace in the Middle East and rejecting the construction of the Separation Wall built inside the Palestinian territories, on the basis of the Advisory Opinion issued by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in 2004.

The two sides also expressed deep concern regarding the situation in Syria and affirmed the need to preserve the unity, sovereignty, territorial integrity and stability of Syria and the importance of finding a political solution to the crisis there.

Other regional issues such as the situation in Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Somalia, Tunisia, Comoros and Yemen were also discussed.

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.