Mohamed Maliki, Moroccan Ambassador to India, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka, has held many important positions, including heading the Asia and Oceania Affairs Directorate as Director (Additional Secretary) in the Foreign Ministry of his country . He was at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation (MAEC) headquarters in Rabat from July 2007 to September 2016 and has been Deputy Ambassador at the Moroccan Embassies in Islamabad, Pakistan (2003) and in Yaoundé,Cameroon (1994).He holds a Master's in English Literature and Diplomatic Studies. In this interview to Sarah Berry, he talks about the growing bilateral relations between Morocco and India and his plans for enhancing the same during his tenure.

How do you look at the current scenario of bilateral relations between both countries and in which areas do you envisage further growth, especially post the India-Africa Summit?

Though Morocco and India are almost 8,500 kilometres apart, history records the association back to the visit of Ibn Batuta from Tanja/Tangiers, if not earlier. The contribution of Moroccan intellectuals like Abdullah Al-Arwi and Abid alJabri have made a deep impact on thought processes in India and across the globe. Till now, the partnership between India and Morocco has been particularly strong in the fields of phosphates and their derivatives.

Possible expansion could be envisaged in the fields of agriculture, ICT, aerospace, pharmaceuticals, automotive, research and development, science and technology. Man-power training, water resources management and vocational training could be other areas of cooperation.

In fact, the visit of His Majesty Mohammed VI to India in October 2015 for the India-Africa Summit gave a real impetus to the bilateral cooperation in different fields. The two leaders decided to elevate these relations into a strategic partnership. The two countries celebrate this year as the 60th anniversary of the establishment of their diplomatic relations.

Tourism is an important aspect in developing people-to-people connects.How does Morocco plan to develop this segment for the Indian outbound traveller? Are connectivity and language an issue?

Morocco's uniqueness lies on its abundant and exotic natural and architectural beauty. This apart, the cuisine and hospitality are one of the finest. In fact, Moroccan kitchen is ranked amongst the Top Five in the world. Having said that, it is important to note that the destination is ideal for a second or third-time traveller, as there is simply a lot to be explored. With a growing middle class section of society, spending capacity and awareness, my country is bound to gain even more prominence as a travel destination for the discerning Indian traveller. Besides this, the luxury segment in Morocco is strong, like India.

Language and connectivity are not really a challenge any more, as English is commonly spoken besides French and Spanish; Arabic being the official language. A number of permutations and combinations are available as regards connectivity. However, a direct connectivity is being worked upon. In my tenure as Ambassador, I hope to be able to enhance contacts with the travel and trade communities here, and build on this important sector. Another vital aspect is the shooting of Indian films. In fact, right now, Salman Khan and Katrina Kaif are shooting Tiger Zinda Hai in Morocco. So, we look forward to many more such ventures.

Does Morocco support India's candidature for a permanent seat in the Security Council?

India is an important world player. The Security Council should reflect the new realities and ensure a large representation of different regions and emerging powers. India remains a serious candidate in this reform and a reliable friend to Morocco.

How do you see the cooperationbetweenIndia,Morocco and the African continent develop in the next five years?

As Morocco is becoming a regional player and growing power in Africa, the need for enhancing current partnerships and building new networks is essential. In fact, Morocco could, hence, serve as an important gateway for Indian companies seeking access to diverse African markets.

How are Indian films perceived in your country, especially since quite a few famous Indian actor shave been felicitated by the Moroccan government?

Indian films find resonance with the Moroccan people, as the finer aspects of life are something which both peoples appreciate. In fact, three years ago, India was the Guest of Honour at the Marrakech International Film Festival. Renowned Indian actor Amitabh Bachchan was honoured by His Majesty a few years back.

In the eighth edition of the Jagran Film Festival last month, Morocco was a partner and a focus country, where many Moroccan feature films are being and will be screened in 16 Indian cities for 100 days. Yet another famous Indian actor, Shah Rukh Khan has also been seen participating in advertisements and promotions in Morocco. So, we are looking forward to receiving many more Indian film producers and film stars in my country.

Women's empowerment is an important issue. How does Morocco address this subject?

As you said, it is an important issue. It is also an opportunity to remember that the first university built in Morocco was by a lady! Equality is paramount, including gender equality and parental balance. For example, a Moroccan mother can pass on her nationality to her offspring, regardless of the husband's nationality. Granting wives joint responsibility of the family, with their husbands, and equal access rights to property, strong rights upon divorce, are other achievements of Moroccan ladies. Reservations for women in political spheres and free education ~ applicable to both genders ~ covering even higher education are yet other important milestones achieved.

Under the leadership of His Majesty Mohammed VI, the King, Moroccan women have held positions in high ranks in the government. Nine ladies were recently appointed as Ministers in the current Government of the Kingdom. Besides this, in the latest reshuffle of the diplomatic corps, 14 Moroccan ladies were appointed as Ambassadors of His Majesty to different countries.