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Bahrain Foreign Minister’s India Visit

April 7, 2011 by  


By Nilofar Suhrawardy, TMO

NEW DELHI: Bahrain Foreign Minister Sheikh Khalid Bin Ahmed Bin Mohammed Al-Khalifa was in India last month as a part of diplomatic drive to assure the Indian government about the security of Indians living there. He held detailed discussions with his Indian counterpart SM Krishna on issues of mutual interest, including recent developments in Bahrain and the region (March 30). Ahead of their talks, the two ministers laid stress on “traditionally friendly relations” between India and Bahrain, “which are based on historical and civilizational ties.” This “long standing relationship” is reflected by presence of a large Indian community in Bahrain.

During their meeting, over lunch hosted by India in his honor, Bahraini foreign minister gave “firm assurance” about “safety and security of Indian community” in Bahrain. He also appreciated their contribution to “progress and development of Bahrain.” There are around 350,000 Indians in Bahrain. Khalid drew Krishna’s attention to his having met more than 200 Indians in Manama on 26th March, 2011. On his part, Krishna thanked Khalid for his reassurance with regard to Indian community’s well being. The former also expressed confidence that “law-abiding Indian community would continue to be a partner in Bahrain’s growth story well into the future.”

Referring to recent developments in Bahrain, Krishna expressed the hope that “peaceful resolution of all issues through dialogue would pave the way for continued development and prosperity of friendly people of Bahrain.”

During an exclusive interview with this scribe, Khalid acknowledged: “There is no doubt a wave of transformation in the Arab world.” Accepting that winds of transformation were sweeping across the region, he pointed to the human development index in the six Gulf Coordination Council countries – Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Qatar – being much higher than that of other countries. In other parts of the region, the people on the lower end of the scale were vying for a change, he said. Referring specifically to Bahrain, he said that though sectarian tensions between Sunnis and Shias have prevailed for “around 1400 years,” they have taken such a major turn for first time, reaching the “stage of polarization.” “Sectarian turn is the biggest threat to whole region,” he said.

Laying stress that there was a need for “true transformation” in many parts of the area, Khalid expressed that this “movement” had been “hijacked and had taken a sectarian turn” between Sunnis and Shias. Expressing favor for a political dialogue to sort out the problem, he said: “Political dialogue would be way forward in future.” The priority at present was to maintain law and order, Khalid emphasized.

Refuting the impression generated about Bahrain taking help of Saudi forces to control protestors, Khalid said that these belonged to Peninsula Shield Force. “We take our security seriously,” he stated. The troops would stay as long as they were needed, he said. Khalid specified that their help was essential to prevent the tension from escalating into a civil strife. The situation was “under control,” he said.

A “very negligible” population had left Bahrain because of tension in the country, he said. Though certain elements’ aim was to scare the expat community, Indians were not targeted, he emphasized. “I am visiting India before Europe or America. This is more important. We are regional stakeholders. Without India, we do not have a solution. We need to reassure India about the Indian community in Bahrain,” the minister asserted.

Elaborating on security architecture in the region, Bahrain cannot envisage this without India, Khalid said. India’s Deputy National Security Advisor Vijaya Latha Reddy called on Khalid ahead of his meeting with Krishna. She discussed issues of bilateral interest with him.

Bahrain also favors a role for Pakistan as well as Iran. “We want Iran to be part of this security architecture. We want it to prosper and be as active as in the past as a responsible country in the region,” he said.

Without elaborating on diplomatic tension between Bahrain and Iran, Khalid categorically stated: “We are for good relations with Iran.” “The result of bad relations with a neighbor can be more lethal than that of a nuclear bomb,” he said.

Diplomatic tension between Bahrain and Iran has been marked by the former holding latter as responsible for provoking Shia-Sunni tension in the region. Bahrain has warned Iran to keep away from “meddling” in its internal affairs. On its part, Iran has strongly criticized the arrival of external troops in Bahrain.

Bahrain is also not pleased with external strikes supporting rebels in Libya. When asked to comment on this, Khalid said that Bahrain had no objection to maintaining a “no-fly zone” over Libya. He was, however, skeptical about role of external strikes. “We were a part of the GCC and Arab League resolutions supporting no-fly zone. But we feel there is no clarity whether external strikes can really help in protection of people and their security.”

This was Khalid’s second visit to India. His visit, according to official sources, “has strengthened the excellent relationship between the two countries.”

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