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An India-loving Ambassador is no more

Larbi Reffouh, Morocco's  former ambassador to India who retired from service in October 2016,  died suddenly early January 16 in Rabat.  He was 69. A very popular figure in the diplomatic circuit, Reffouh had also served as Moroccan ambassador to Gabon, Brazil, Argentina before coming to India in 2011.  He was concurrently accredited to Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka and Maldives while being based in New Delhi.

Jan 18, 2018
 
By Tarun Basu
 
Larbi Reffouh, Morocco's  former ambassador to India who retired from service in October 2016,  died suddenly early January 16 in Rabat.  He was 69. A very popular figure in the diplomatic circuit, Reffouh had also served as Moroccan ambassador to Gabon, Brazil, Argentina before coming to India in 2011.  He was concurrently accredited to Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka and Maldives while being based in New Delhi. 
 
A highlight of Reffouh's India tenure was the visit of King Mohammed VI to India for the India Africa Forum Summit in October 2015. The King not only stayed for six days - the longest that any of the 53 African leaders who came to India stayed - but also managed to do quite a bit of travel and shopping in New Delhi and Mumbai. He had brought with him a delegation of over one hundred who came in four plane loads. And the entire visit went completely to the monarch's satisfaction, a tribute to Reffouh's organisational skills and immense contacts he had developed in India on all fronts.
 
"India occupies a key place in Moroccan foreign policy. There is a strong political will at the highest level in the Kingdom of Morocco, to further enhance ties with India in all fields," said Reffouh in one of his last interviews in India. He stated King Mohammed VI saw "India as an important country with which Morocco is looking forward to launching a strategic partnership". He also foresaw Morocco - because of its strategic location at the intersection of the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea in northern Africa - as a hub for Indian trade to Africa and Europe and also to America with which Morocco had a free trade agreement. 
 
Reffouh, during his five years in India, saw an exponential growth in Morocco-India ties, especially on the security and anti-terrorism front,  and also spoke extensively about the moderate school of Islam practised in the kingdom and the great importance given to training, education and modernisation in mosques and madrassas in his country and how it had become an exemplar for moderate Islam in a volatile region. 
 
With SPS,  he was instrumental in jointly organising two very successful seminars - one on Morocco-India ties and one with Maghreb countries. 
 
A wonderful host and a large-hearted human being, generous in his hospitality, Reffouh's parties - whether at his spacious home or in hotels - used to be well attended on the diplomatic circuit. 
 
On a personal level, he introduced me to Morocco, a country I had earlier known little about,  and made me and many others in India aware of the rich potential of closer bilateral ties, both at government and people-to-people level. 
 
Reffouh was succeeded in New Delhi by Ambassador Mohammed Maliki, an old South Asia hand, who has a challenging legacy to follow in taking bilateral ties to newer and more diverse heights. 
 
As late as December 31,  Larbi sent me a Republic Day "I Love my India" whatsapp greeting "in advance".  Did he have a premonition that he may not be around on that day to sent greetings to his numerous Indian friends?
 
(Tarun Basu is President, Society for Policy Studies, New Delhi. He can be contacted at tarun.basu@spsindia.in)

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