Mr. Kiran Rijiju’s warm welcome at Tripoli International Airport by Libyan officials marks a drastic shift of engagement by the government of India to re-establish its diplomatic relations with the war-ravaged country.
The minister’s two-day visit which started on 8th of May, 2018 as part of the External Affairs Ministry’s plan to reach out to Libyan government is the first ever sincere initiative by any political representative of the Modi government.
The high-level engagement between two countries includes a wide range of issues. The most prominent ones among them are: reestablishing full-fledged diplomatic missions between the two nations, lifting the travel ban to Libya, the return of Indian companies to Libya, cooperation in the field of security along with other areas of vital concern and mutual interest.
India had been a long ally of Libya. During the time of former dictator, Moammar Al-Qaddafi, Indira Gandhi had once graced Libya by visiting the country in 1984. After the revolution in 2011 and the subsequent chaos that engulfed the tiny rich nation, there had been the stalemate in the relationship between the two countries. Though India had provided humanitarian assistance of US$ 1 million to Libya in 2012 and supplied artificial limbs known as ‘Jaipur Foot” for the handicapped who lost their limbs during the civil war, the warmer relationship could not be further materialized.
Union Minister, Kiren Rijiju’s visit revives hope of Indian mission to be fully operational in Libya. Currently, the Indian embassy in Tripoli consists of only essential staff with a consular as an executive head. The Indian ambassador to Malta is in-charge of overseeing affairs of Embassy in Libya.
Request to End Travel Ban
Travel ban to Libya by the government of India which is still in force since 2016, has been a cause of great concern for Indian immigrants. They often find it difficult to come back to Libya from vacation in India. Many of the Indian immigrants obtain a visa for the United Arab Emirates for Dubai to visit Libya while others try to choose Turkey to Tripoli. This has caused undue trouble to Indian nationals both physically and financially.
The ban has also strained efforts of the Libyan government in recruiting professionals from India. The skilled manpower is in huge demand in various sectors in Libya.
In view of emerging development, the Libyan Foreign Minister of the Presidential Council’s government, Mohammaed Sayala, requested his Indian counterpart, Sushma Swaraj, to allow Indian workers to Libya when the two leaders met each other at the ministerial meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement in Azerbaijan earlier this year.
The return of Indian companies to Libya is highly expected out of this meeting with Union Minister, Kiren Rijiju. Prior to 2011 revolution, the Indian companies were actively engaged in the exploration of oil resources, building roads, bridges and expanding housing projects. Previously, there were nearly 18000 Indian workers in Libya. Currently, only 1500 immigrants remain.
The high-level engagement is also likely to push forward the bilateral trade between India and Libya. India is a great export of such items as electrical equipment, mechanical appliances, vehicles, parts of turbines, boilers, iron & steel articles, goods, drugs and pharmaceuticals. On the other hand, Libya’s supply of mineral fuels, mineral oils and products of their distillation, bituminous substances and mineral waxes is likely to boost India’s energy sector.
As per latest statistics for the year 2010-11 (April – Dec), the bilateral trade stood at $ 584.58 million compared to total trade of US$ 844.62 million for the year 2009-10. The bilateral trade began showing the significant upward trend since 2004-05, peaking to US $ 1,366.65 Million in the year 2007-08 as compared to US $ 29.12 Million for the year 2003- 04.
However, exports by India to Libya during the period 2015-16 went down at USD 122.58 million. The decline was due to ongoing political turmoil in Libya since July 2014.
Timely Move to Fill the Vacancy
India’s decision to break the ice and re-establish their diplomatic relations is a timely move. At the moment, there is a perception of noticeable political change on the ground in Libya. Indian professionals are highly respected.
Major countries such as USA, China, Britain, Turkey and Italy have begun to engage with the government of Libya and look forward to lending a helping hand in the reconstruction of the war-torn country.
India must make their presence feel and play a leading role in Libya or else other ambitious nations will fill the vacancy particularly China.