During Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s African safari, India forged a new bonding with war-torn Libya — much of it away from the limelight — while exploring new investment opportunities and strengthening ties with other African nations.
So overwhelmed was Libyan Foreign Minister Abdal al Latti al Obedi, that he reportedly told External Affairs Minister S M Krishna, “Our brothers (friendly Arab and African countries) didn’t help as much as you did for us!”
New Delhi officially endorsed the African Union’s (AU’s) stand of calling for an immediate ceasefire and a political solution through peaceful means and dialogue for peace in Libya, a country that has annual bilateral trade of $844.62 million with India.
But behind the scene, there were more efforts during the African Union (AU)-India Summit to stand beside Libya in its hour of crisis.
Top official sources told Business Standard that New Delhi had to intervene to even secure hotel bookings for the Libyan delegation in Addis Ababa, the seat of AU. “Initially many hotels were scared to host the Libyan leaders. We finally managed to get them rooms in Hilton Hotel,” said an official.
Hilton had hosted the Indian delegation except the Prime Minister and his top officials. Team PM stayed at Hotel Sheraton.
Facing uncertainty, the Libyans initially were hesitant to send a minister-led delegation to Addis Ababa for the AU-India summit. But New Delhi, through its diplomatic channels, convinced Tripoli to send a high-level delegation and assured it of diplomatic support.
“When we contacted other friendly African nations to know about the Libyan delegation, most of them were clueless about their plans. So, we had to step up our diplomatic efforts,” said a senior official. After deciding to come with their foreign minister to Addis Ababa, the Libyans also sought a last-minute appointment with Manmohan Singh for a bilateral meet. New Delhi, however, politely expressed its inability to arrange a slot, as the PM was preoccupied with other bilateral meetings. But a meeting with Foreign Minister S M Krishna was arranged on the sidelines of the Afro-India Summit.
During the meeting, Krishna expressed “regret” over the NATO airstrikes and supported the call for an immediate ceasefire in Libya. He also urged for stopping violence and attacks on civilians, an Indian official said later. After the India-AU Summit, Singh said, “We have discussed the Libya situation at length at the summit, and we fully support the AU position.”
Indian companies, especially in sectors like hydrocarbon, power, construction and information technology have several ongoing projects in Libya.
“We are also concerned about the 18,000 people of Indian origin who were working there,” said another official.
While India’s oil import from Libya is just one million tonnes out of the annual import of 160 million tonnes, many Indian workers are engaged in Libya in construction and petroleum sector jobs.