BEIRUT: Annahar interviewed Indian Ambassador to Lebanon Sanjiv Arora at the Indian embassy for an insight on his life, his post in Lebanon, and the Indian-Lebanese relationship.
He shared some of his thoughts on current issues, and spoke of his experience as an ambassador of India to Lebanon, with the former being the world’s largest democracy and the third biggest economy in terms of purchasing power parity.
What did you study at university? How did you come to choose the diplomacy field that led to you serving as an Ambassador?
I studied physics, math, and English as an undergraduate and then I switched to business management and did my MBA in Punjabi University. Initially, I joined the corporate sector, but I then had this urge to join the diplomatic service. I left my corporate job after six months and I prepared for the civil service examination. Ever since, it’s been 34 years of fulfilling my voyage.
You’ve served in other Middle Eastern postings; could you tell us about them?
Lebanon is in my fourth assignment in the Middle East. My first posting was in Egypt in 1985. I learned Arabic there, hence my Egyptian dialect. I found that Egypt has a very vibrant atmosphere. After that, I served in Saudi Arabia. In 1988, I was the acting consul general during the Gulf War I. Saudi Arabia is a country that’s very close to India, and we have a strong partnership. We also have a large Indian community in Saudi.
In between my postings, I had to post in my own country, which I found to have been extremely important. Serving in Delhi was crucial for my development, since it’s in the capital that policies are formulated. Then 21 years after Saudi Arabia, I served as an ambassador to Qatar. During my time there, we enlarged cooperation in several sectors and exchanged high-level visits.
You’ve worked in multilateral and bilateral diplomacy, how do the two compare?
I have extensively dealt with bilateral issues, for four years I was head of the UN political division in the foreign ministry in Delhi. I dealt with quite a range of issues with respect to India’s foreign policy in the UN.
Both multilateral and bilateral diplomacy are very interesting and need a lot of work. In both, I think it’s very important to have a grasp of the issues.
What are the major priorities of the Indian embassy in Lebanon? And what has been the biggest challenge?
Our main priority at the embassy is to reach out to the Indian community in a very sincere and active manner. Their wellbeing and welfare is our foremost priority. Other priorities are strengthening economic and commercial relations. Bilateral trade is nearly $300 million and we are always encouraging more. In Lebanon, cultural diplomacy is so important. Here, there’s so much love for Indian music, films, costumes, food and so on.
Could you please tell me about the developments of the Indian-Lebanese relationship?
The two countries have a long historical relationship and they cooperate in diverse areas. There’s keenness on both sides to further expand cooperation. Both are pluralistic countries and there has been peaceful coexistence. I’ve always admired that Lebanon has been a functioning democracy.
We have efficient and swift visa services that usually provide multiple entries to India, since we want more Lebanese people to visit. We have a small yet a hardworking Lebanese community in India. We also want more Indians companies to invest in Lebanon and vice versa.
To add, there is also a presence of 900 Indian soldiers as part of UNIFIL peacekeeping mission. They have a high standard of professionalism and are highly reputable.
The ambassador also shared his thoughts on current issues like the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, trade war, climate change, terrorism, and disarmament.
We believe a separate state of Palestine should come into existence. There should be clearly marked borders which are fair. At the UN, we have been supportive of various resolutions for the Palestinian cause, including the resolution for Palestinian statehood. We have financial and technical assistance and high-level exchange visits between us and Palestine.
Current trade wars and climate change:
India is a member and an active stakeholder in the World Trade Agreement. It’s also engaged with other countries to expand global trades and we believe these policies must evolve in a transparent and efficient manner.
On the issue of climate change, India has been an active negotiator. We are highly concerned about environmental degradation and the effects of climate change for the entire planet. We believe all member states should take responsibility. As a large developing country, we share the global responsibility to combat climate change.
War on terrorism:
Terrorism is a threat to the entire international community. An act of terrorism anywhere is a threat to peace and security everywhere. India condemns terrorism in all its forms and manifestations. We call upon the international community to back a zero tolerance policy on terrorism. India has been a victim of terrorism for many years, and we have been taking progressive steps to counter these acts and strengthen our cooperation with like-minded countries.
We have a consistent policy regarding disarmament, we believe in universal disarmament, which is verifiable and nondiscriminatory. Several years back, India presented a plan for global disarmament at the UN. In 1998 India undertook peaceful nuclear tests. India believes their nuclear weapons are for self-defense, and we have very well defined and publicized doctrine of no first use and minimal deterrence.
Today, August 15, marks the 72nd independence day of India, where have been the major developments since then and where does India stand now?
Mahatma Gandhi’s message is eternal; he led millions of people toward a non-violent civil disobedience movement and claimed our independence from British rule. Our country’s motto is “the entire world is one family.” With such a large population of 1.3 billion people, in the last seven years, India has every reason to be satisfied and proud with its achievements. Although we have a huge population, we don’t look at it as a challenge but as a huge resource.
Energy is being channelized, the education sector is improving. The economy is doing well, we are the world 3rd largest economy in terms of PPP. We also have a robust GDP growth rate.
Our current government has taken huge initiatives, like giving momentum to our manufacturing sector, inviting foreign partners to invest in India and join hands and collaborate, focusing on startups for the younger generation, trying to achieve a digital India, and working on a “clean India campaign,” for greater hygiene and cleanliness, which was inspired by Gandhi.
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