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31 January, 2017

Deepening strategic relations

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

India’s relations with the United Arab Emirates are evolving into a wide-ranging strategic partnership which, if nurtured carefully, can have a salutary effect on a region which has the potential to play a decisive role in the global economy.

The joint statement issued at the end of the visit of Sheikh Mohamed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed forces, who was the chief guest at India’s 68th Republic Day celebrations in New Delhi last week, laid emphasis on the deepening of the relationship between the two countries in the past two years.
India’s ties with the Gulf region go back to a remote past. “We knew India and Indians long before we knew anyone else,” a leading functionary of a Gulf state had told this writer while on a tour of the region 36 years ago.

Colonial intervention disrupted the ties. We are now witnessing their re-establishment on a new basis in the light of current realities. Within five years of the founding of the UAE, the first President, Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan visited India and had talks with Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Among the agreements the two governments signed on that occasion was one to foster the age-old cultural relations between the peoples of the two countries.

India’s President Fakhruddin Ahmed visited the UAE the following year and Indira Gandhi in 1981. At that stage, bilateral relations were defined largely by India’s need for oil and the Gulf States’ need for labour. Indians, skilled and unskilled, made their contribution to the phenomenal growth of the region after the oil boom, and remittances from expatriates boosted India’s economy.

Two years ago the United Nations estimated that about 2.8 million Indians working in the UAE send home $13 billion in a year.

Vastly altered conditions in the two countries and in the region and the world as a whole have dictated a qualitative change in India-UAE relations in recent years. An investment protection agreement, signed in 2013, paved the way for infusion of Dh7.34 billion in India’s infrastructure project.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the UAE in 2015 and Sheikh Mohamed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan’s visit to India last year underscored the two countries’ determination to carry forward the good work of their predecessors and redefine bilateral relations in keeping with the needs of the time.

India is now the UAE’s third largest trading partner after China and the US, and the two countries are committed to increase bilateral trade, which stood close to $50 billion last year, by 60 per cent by 2020, when Dubai is due to host World Expo.

During 2015-16 India received foreign direct investment of $1 billion from the UAE. Investment by Indian companies in the UAE also increased. The UAE is now a favourite destination of Indian start-ups.

During Modi’s visit the two countries signed agreements to set up the UAE-India Infrastructure Development Fund of $75 billion and to establish petroleum reserves in India as part of a strategic partnership in the energy sector.

The Crown Prince’s visit saw an expansion of the area of strategic partnership. One of the 14 bilateral agreements signed on the occasion specifically mentions a comprehensive strategic partnership. The others envisage, among other things, cooperation in varied fields such as defence industry, cyberspace, energy efficiency services, maritime transport and road transport and highways as also partnership in agriculture and allied sectors.

In the joint statement, India and the UAE reiterated their strong condemnation of terrorism “in all its forms and manifestations, wherever committed and by whomever”. Earlier this month the UAE had lost five of its diplomats in a dastardly terrorist attack when they were at Kandahar in Afghanistan to open a slew of humanitarian, educational and development projects.

A UAE contingent of 149 personnel drawn from the land, navy and air forces led this year’s Republic Day parade, along with the President’s Bodyguard, and a UAE military band in attendance. Its participation is indicative of the importance India attaches to its expanding relationship with the UAE.

Bilateral defence interaction between the two countries has been on for some time with exchange of high-level visits and a meeting of National Security Advisers of the two countries every six months. Significantly, elevation of relations to the level of strategic partnership is taking place at a time when the UAE is playing an increasing role in regional affairs. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, January 31, 2017.

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