India and Egypt decided on Wednesday to elevate their ties to the level of a strategic partnership, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi resolving to broadbase the bilateral engagement in the areas of defence, security and trade, and calling for “zero tolerance” towards terrorism.
After his talks with the visiting Arab leader, Modi said both sides were unanimous in their view that terrorism poses the most serious security threat to humanity and agreed that concerted action is necessary to end cross-border terrorism.
Foreign Secretary Vinay Kwatra said at a media briefing that the prime minister and the Egyptian president called for “zero tolerance” towards terrorism and strongly condemned its use as a “foreign policy instrument”, in what is seen as an oblique reference to Pakistan’s support to various terror groups.
The two leaders also discussed the “cascading impact” of the Russia-Ukraine conflict on the availability of food, energy and fertiliser, and decided to work towards reliable supply chains.
Following the talks between Modi and Sisi, the two sides signed five agreements providing for cooperation in the areas of culture, information technology, cyber security, matters relating to youngsters and broadcasting.
The two leaders also decided to take the volume of bilateral trade to USD 12 billion in the next five years from around USD seven billion at present, Kwatra said while describing the Modi-Sisi talks as “extremely productive” and “very warm”.
In his remarks, the prime minister said India and Egypt are worried about the spread of terrorism around the world.
“India and Egypt are worried about the spread of terrorism happening around the world. We are unanimous in the opinion that terrorism is the most serious security threat to humanity,” Modi said.
“Both countries also agree that concerted action is necessary to end cross-border terrorism. And for this, together we will continue to try to alert the international community,” he added.
The Egyptian president echoed Modi’s views on terrorism and said united efforts are required to deal with the menace.
“We have similar views on dealing with terrorism and extremism,” he said.
New Delhi considers Sisi as a strong leader who has shown determination in tackling terrorism with an iron hand.
India also considers Egypt as a moderate voice in the Arab world as it has been taking an independent stand vis-a-vis India and issues concerning New Delhi, such as Kashmir, at the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).
The foreign secretary noted that the two sides deliberated on certain specifics in terms of dealing with terrorism as well as radicalisation.
The 68-year-old influential Arab leader, who arrived here on a three-day visit on Tuesday, will grace the Republic Day celebrations as the chief guest.
“Strategic cooperation between the two countries will help in promoting peace and prosperity in the entire region. So in today’s meeting, President Sisi and I decided to elevate our bilateral partnership to the level of ‘strategic partnership’,” Modi said.
“We have decided that under the India-Egypt strategic partnership, we will develop a long-term framework of greater cooperation in political, security, economic and scientific fields,” he added.
The prime minister noted that there is immense potential for enhancing the security and defence cooperation between India and Egypt.
“We have also decided in today’s meeting to further strengthen the cooperation between our defence industries, and enhance the exchange of information and intelligence related to counter-terrorism,” he said.
“Misuse of cyber space to spread extremist ideologies and radicalisation is a growing menace. We will extend cooperation against this also,” Modi added.
The prime minister said he held extensive discussions with Sisi on strengthening the food and pharma supply chains affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and the Ukraine conflict.
“We also agreed on the need to increase mutual investments and trade in these areas. Together we have decided that in the next five years, we will take our bilateral trade to USD 12 billion,” he said.
Asked whether Egypt has sought the supply of wheat from India, Kwatra did not give a direct reply but said both sides discussed cooperation in dealing with food and energy security as well as the supply of fertiliser. The foreign secretary suggested that both sides would explore ways to translate them into meeting specific elements of food security.
In reflection of the growing bilateral ties, India sent 61,000 tonnes of wheat to Egypt last year, relaxing restrictions on the export of the foodgrain.
Kwatra said the decisions taken during the talks will be implemented in a time-bound manner.
Explaining the elevation of the bilateral ties to the level of a strategic partnership, the foreign secretary said the focus would be on expanding cooperation in four key pillars — political and security, economic engagement, scientific and economic collaboration and wider cultural and people-to-people ties.
On defence collaboration, he said the aim is to boost the ties in the areas of defence training, military exercises, cooperation in the field of equipment and industrial partnership.
In his remarks, Sisi said there were discussions on boosting the connectivity between the two countries and that Egypt wants to see more and more Indian tourists visiting the African country.
“We discussed regional and global issues of mutual interests…. We also deliberated on bilateral defence cooperation,” he said.
In the delegation-level talks, the Egyptian side reaffirmed its interests in procuring the Tejas light combat aircraft, radars, military helicopters and other such platforms from India.
Kwatra said Modi and Sisi also deliberated on the challenges of food, fertiliser and energy and how the two countries can work together to ensure their availability.
The two sides also focused on cooperation in renewable energy, pharmaceuticals, infrastructure and information technology (IT).
“Given the challenges of food, fertiliser and energy that both India and Egypt face, the two leaders agreed in their discussions that the two countries will work together to ensure and build supply chains which are reliable in the field of food, fertiliser and energy including, if required, through government-to-government partnership,” the foreign secretary said.
Sisi highlighted tourism as an important sector to boost people-to-people ties and spoke on the need to increase air connectivity between the two countries.
The Egyptian president had previously visited India in October 2015 to participate in the third India-Africa Forum Summit, which was followed by his State visit in September 2016.
This is for the first time that the president of Egypt has been invited as the chief guest to the Republic Day celebrations. A military contingent from the Egyptian Army will also participate in the Republic Day parade on Thursday.
India is keen on further expanding its ties with Egypt, a key player in the politics of both the Arab world as well as Africa. The country is also seen as a major gateway to the markets in Africa and Europe.
Earlier in the day, Sisi was accorded a ceremonial welcome at the Rashtrapati Bhavan.
Later, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar called on the Egyptian president. PTI MPB RC