Foreign minister Sushma Swaraj will travel to Morocco, with which India has signed 40 pacts over the past two years

NEW DELHI: India is stepping up its engagement with the Arab world with a series of engagements in February as Pakistan ups the ante on Kashmir across bilateral and multilateral forums.

Besides a plan to host Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman soon, foreign minister Sushma Swaraj will travel to Morocco, with which India has signed 40 pacts over the past two years across sectors including defence, counter-terrorism, education and investments.

Before that, Swaraj will host Algerian foreign minister Abdelkader Messahel on Thursday. Algeria has been against the strong Organisation of Islamic Conference position on Kashmir and has been irked by ISI’s support for Algerian insurgent group – Islamic Salvation Front. The Algerian foreign minister is making it a point not to visit Pakistan while being in the region. On her part, Swaraj will not travel to Algiers while she is in Morocco due to lukewarm ties between the two neighbouring countries.

In addition, India and Muslim-majority North African nations along with Jordan, Syria and Lebanon are preparing to host a mega business meet in Tunis in February. The meeting will be first of its kind between India and the region and holds immense potential for investments and trade.

North Africa allows India entry into the Mediterranean region besides Africa due to its geographical proximity and free-trade agreement. Commerce and industry minister Suresh Prabhu may represent India at the meeting.

“The India-WANA (West Asia North Africa) regional conclave to be held in Tunisia will be an excellent opportunity for the Indian private sector to network not only with the Tunisian businesses community, but also with their counterparts in many WANA member states,” Nejmeddine Lakhal, ambassador of Tunisia to India, told ET, explaining India’s deepening engagement with part of the Arab World.

The business meet will serve as a platform to deepen dialogues between India and North Africa and some Middle East countries to explore priority and promising sectors and areas, he said.

“It also reflects, once again, the increasing interest and commitment of India toward further strengthening developmental partnerships with our region,” he added.

Meanwhile, a key delegation from Oman visited the country last week to firm up India’s presence in Duqm Port. Oman has allowed the Indian Navy to utilise the strategically located Duqm Port.

The Special Economic Zone Authority at Duqm (Sezad) launched a promotional campaign here last week to seek Indian investment. Yahya bin Said bin Abdullah Al Jabri, chairman of Sezad, urged Indian companies and businessmen to explore investment opportunities in Duqm and avail of the advantages offered by the region.

While Pakistan PM Imran Khan is making the round of the Gulf states, Turkey and Malaysia to solicit financial support, foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi is participating in various fora to push Islamabad’s line on Kashmir, including open support for a separatist agenda, reminiscent of Pakistan’s campaign from the 1990s.