India-Morocco Ties Get A Boost

As a part of India’s outreach to North Africa, External Affairs Minister (EAM) Sushma Swaraj paid her maiden visit to Morocco.  The visit was to build and reenergize India’s engagement with the Kingdom and consolidating New Delhi’s strategic partnership in the changing geo-political situation in the region. Morocco is playing a key role in bringing new synergy among the African countries to deal with various threats and challenges faced by the African countries. The Kingdom of Morocco is strategically located at the confluence of the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea, placing it in a much advantageous position to play a significant role in the region. It is labelled as the ‘African Lions’ among growing nations.

Morocco has been taking major initiatives to counter radicalization and extremism in the region. African countries view the Kingdom having significant role to play in the Maghreb region. The Kingdom’s role in fighting terrorism and extremism has been acknowledged by none other than Prime Minister Modi. In August 2015, when Prime Minister Modi visited UAE, he spoke about Delhi-UAE-Morocco trilateral to be the ‘fulcrum’ of New Delhi’s “Act West Policy”. With respect to security cooperation to counter terrorism in the region he said, “One Arab country that recognised the currents of extremism sweeping through the Middle East and North Africa region early is Morocco. As a result, Morocco today is pushing a multi-dimensional strategy to comprehensively combat terrorism.” The Indian Prime Minister had observed, “Morocco has stepped up economic cooperation with numerous countries in Africa’s Sahara and Sahel regions. India- Morocco relations date back to the 14th century.

Morocco’s efforts at the UN has led to the creation of the ‘Group of Friends Against Terrorism’ to better coordinate UN activities to combat terrorism; of which India is a member. The country also propagates modern Islam which can be seen as a counter to the radical version propagated by fundamentalists.

King Mohammed VI and Prime Minister Modi had agreed on the need to boost the level of strategic partnership between the Kingdom of Morocco and the Republic of India. Both countries also agreed to set up a working committee coordinated by the foreign ministers of the two countries to discuss joint projects and initiatives to meet the new ambition.

With an aim to boost India-Morocco strategic partnership, the External Affairs Minister held meetings with her counterpart Mr. Nasser Bourita, Minister of Foreign Affairs & International Cooperation. She also called on King Mohammed VI and Mr. Saad Dine El Otmani, Head of Government. The centrality of enhanced cooperation to counter extremism and terrorism emerged as key area of engagement.

Four MoU’s for cooperation in the areas of Counter Terrorism, Housing and Human Settlements, Youth Matters and Reciprocal facilitation of procedures for issue of Business Visa were signed. The Minister interacted with the Indian community in Rabat to build the strong cultural connect between the two countries. Mrs. Swaraj acknowledged the efforts of the Kingdom in counter-terrorism and thus India’s enhanced engagement in this area. She noted that “Morocco has been a leader in counter-terrorism efforts and is a pioneer in fighting radicalisation.”

Both the countries agreed to set up a Joint Working Group on Counter Terrorism with an aim to develop a comprehensive approach to combat terrorism including cross- border terrorism, misuse of internet including social media by terror entities; terrorist financing, recruitment of members of terrorist groups.

Morocco offers immense opportunities for engagement in economic sectors.  India is one of the major markets for Moroccan phosphate and its derivatives. Other main items of export to India are metallic ores and metal scrap, semi-finished products and inorganic chemicals. The main items of India’s exports to Morocco are cotton yarn, synthetic fibre, transport equipment, pharmaceuticals, agricultural implements, chemicals, spices and manufactured metals.

The Indian External Affairs Minister’s visit thus, could be considered as beginning of new era of cooperation between the two countries. Also it’s India’s earnest effort to reach out and build stronger engagement with the North African region.

Script: Dr. Meena Singh Roy, Strategic Analyst on North Africa