India is making an attempt to re-establish its diplomatic relations with Libya, with Union Minister Kiren Rijiju embarking on an official visit to the North African country beginning Tuesday.
India’s relations with Libya were snapped after the fall of the Muammar Gaddafi regime in 2011. New Delhi does not have any representative in Tripoli for the last few years nor does Libya have an envoy in New Delhi. “First time India will establish contact with Government of Libya after the civil war and the end of Col Gaddafi’s long rule,” Rijiju told PTI at New Delhi on Sunday.
During his two-day visit, he is expected to meet top leadership of Libya and interact with the Indian diaspora which continues to live in the conflict-hit country. There are still around 1,500 Indian nationals, who have decided to stay back and continue with their jobs, despite the advisories issued by the External Affairs Ministry asking them to leave Libya. “It is an initiative of the Ministry of External Affairs to establish diplomatic contacts with those countries with whom India is not having and could not have proper relations so far,” Rijiju said.
The minister will be accompanied by Indian Ambassador to Tunisia Prashant Pise, who is also holding additional charge of Libya. India first established its diplomatic mission in Tripoli in 1969. The high point of Indo-Libya relations was the visit of late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to Libya in 1984. After Gaddafi’s killing on October 20, 2011, Libya was formally declared “liberated” on October 23, 2011. In November, 2011 the interim government – National Transitional Council (NTC) was formed and India’s formal recognition to the NTC was conveyed on November 16, 2011.
In his second leg of the tour, Rijiju will visit Tunisia from May 10 to 11 and meet the country’s leadership and the Indian disaspora there. His visit to the two North African countries comes as part of the External Affairs Ministry’s plan to reach out to 68 countries that have not been visited by any political representative of the current government. Many ministers have visited the US, the UK, China, Japan, Germany etc but the NDA government wants that the ministers should also visit other nations for better international cooperation and understanding.
Of the over 190 countries in the world, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has visited around 50 at least once, and, according to officials, wants his ministers to contribute in improving foreign relations through their respective ministries. Exports by India to Libya during the period 2015-16 stood at USD 122.58 million. On the other hand, imports by India from Libya for 2015-16 were to the tune USD 8.86 million. The bilateral trade went down mainly because of the ongoing political and civil strife in Libya since July 2014 and decrease in oil production.
The main items of India’s exports to Libya are stone, plaster, tobacco, coffee, drugs and pharmaceuticals, and other commodities. The main item of India’s imports from Libya is petroleum (crude and products) and aluminum ores. The first resident Indian mission at the level of charge d’affaires was established in Tunisia in 1963 and raised to the Ambassador level in 1976. The Tunisian Embassy in New Delhi was set up in 1981. Several high-level visits took place in this period. Notable among them were that of Indira Gandhi in April 1984, and then prime minister Narasimha Rao in 1992.
Tunisia has been a reliable source for phosphates. India accounts for around 50 per cent of Tunisia’s global phosphoric acid exports. India, on the other hand, exports a wide range of products. Significant among them are automobiles, electrical items, cotton, mechanical engines, rubber, rice, coffee, spices etc. The annual bilateral trade during 2016 was 370.46 million.