Photo: HT
Photo: HT

New Delhi: As Prime Minister Narendra Modi prepares to embark on his first visits abroad in 2016 at the end of March after a hiatus of three months, people familiar with developments say Modi is likely to turn his attention to Africa this year, a continent India is keen to build stronger ties with.

The first ports of call for the Prime Minister in 2016, though, will be Belgium, the US and Saudi Arabia.

Technically, the Prime Minister has visited the African continent—he was in Seychelles and Mauritius last March. But Modi is yet to visit the mainland which boasts of abundant resources and offers huge commercial opportunities for India.

It would also act as “a good follow up” to the third India-Africa Summit held in October, one of the people cited above said. All 54 countries of the continent were represented at the summit. “As of now, its too early to say” which countries in Africa the Prime Minister is likely to travel to, given that the plans are at the drawing board stage, the person cited above said.

The three-nation tour will begin on 30 March with Modi stopping in Brussels for the long overdue India-European Union (EU) summit. The summit will be the first in four years and comes as both sides look to recast ties after the EU last year refused to confirm dates proposed by India for a visit by Modi. This came on the back of a tussle with EU member, Italy, over the slow progress in India of the trial of two Italian marines accused of killing two Indian fishermen in 2012.

Modi will then travel to Washington for the Nuclear Security Summit hosted by US president Barack Obama. On his way back home, Modi will stop in Riyadh for a two-day visit with a key energy partner in the Gulf region.

Another destination that Modi is expected to visit in 2016 is Japan, for the annual bilateral summit with Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe. A visit to Pakistan is also expected as Islamabad is scheduled to host the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) summit which is likely in November.

The Prime Minister had closed the year 2015 with two surprise visits—one to Afghanistan and the other to Pakistan on his way back from Russia. With this, he has travelled to all countries in India’s immediate neighbourhood, except for the Maldives. So a trip to the atoll nation is possible this year, a second person in the know of the matter cited above said.

Also, trips to Iran and Israel are also possible this year.

So far, the Prime Minister has visited some 50 countries since taking office in May 2014.