Growing UAE-India bonhomie
India and UAE are expected to take their bilateral ties to a new high when UAE Crown Prince and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan visits New Delhi to be the chief guest at the Republic Day Function on January 26.
The relation between the two countries has witnessed an upswing, evident from the fact that since the visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in August 2015, Sheikh Mohammed visited India in February last year and, in less than a year is paying another visit which is very significant indeed.
This is perhaps the first time India has invited a foreign dignitary to be the chief guest at the Republic Day function who is not a head of state. A marching contingent, as well as a military band from the Emirates, is also expected to participate in the Republic Day parade at Rajpath. These gestures signify the importance India is attaching to its ties with the UAE. The two countries have accorded great importance and attention to issues like counter-terrorism, security, defence, trade, and investment.
Terrorism will be high on the agenda during the three-day visit of Sheikh Mohammed, particularly given the recent killings of five UAE officials in a bombing in Kandahar in Afghanistan last week.
Before the visit, officials from the two sides will meet in New Delhi for the first India-UAE Strategic Dialogue on January 20 for preliminary talks on defence, security, trade, and investment.
“There is a lot we have on the table,” Indian Ambassador to the UAE, Navdeep Suri was quoted as saying by The National newspaper about the forthcoming visit of Sheikh Mohammed. “Defence is important because we live in a fairly volatile period and in a region that has been particularly hit by that volatility. In that region, India and the UAE are the islands of stability and there is a recognition that by working together, we can contribute a lot more to regional stability,” Suri said.
India is a rising regional power and its economy is booming. The UAE sees India as an important partner in the future. So it is only logical that this huge and commercial tie feeds into a political and strategic one that is attaining new heights. UAE and India enjoy strong bonds of friendship based on centuries-old cultural, religious and economic ties and their relation has received impetus from time-to-time with the exchange of high-level visits.
The historic visit of Modi to UAE on August 16-17, 2015 marked the beginning of a new and comprehensive and strategic partnership. In the joint statement issued after the visit, both leaders agreed to work together not only to consolidate achievements in the existing areas but also to explore newer areas of cooperation.
During the Prime Minister’s visit, the two sides agreed to elevate their relationship to a comprehensive strategic partnership. In one of the significant decisions apparently directed at Pakistan, the two sides agreed to coordinate efforts to counter radicalisation and misuse of religion by groups and countries for inciting hatred, perpetrating and justifying terrorism, or pursuing political aims.
They strongly denounced and opposed terrorism in all forms and manifestations, wherever committed and by whomever, calling on all states to reject and abandon the use of terrorism against other countries, dismantle terrorist infrastructures where they exist, and bring perpetrators of terrorism to justice.
Within six months, Sheikh Mohammed made a state visit to India: from February 10-12, 2016, and had wide-ranging discussions on bilateral, regional, and multilateral issues of mutual interest and reached a broad consensus.
Several agreements including for technical cooperation in cyberspace and combating cyber crime and exchange of information on trade and business opportunities were signed. The two sides reiterated their commitment to fight terrorism in all its manifestations.
India and UAE share centuries-old ties of commerce, culture and kinship. Today, the Indian community of over 2.5 million is a significant part of UAE’s vibrant society and its economic success.
In recent decades, UAE’s economic progress has been one of the global success stories, transforming that nation into a regional leader and a thriving international centre that attracts people and business from across the world.
India has emerged as one of the major world powers and its rapid growth and modernisation, along with its skilled human resources and large markets, make it one of the anchors of the global economy.
The dynamism of the two countries has translated into a rapidly expanding economic partnership. Both sides are striving to strengthen their growing economic and commercial ties for mutual benefits. At present, India is UAE’s number one trading partner with total trade pegged at USD 60 billion in 2015—a tremendous growth since the 1970s when the bilateral annual trade was at USD 180 million.
On oil trade, UAE was the sixth largest source of crude oil import for India in 2014-15. Moreover, UAE is the second largest export destination of India with an amount of over USD 33 billion for the year 2014-15. India’s exports to UAE are well diversified, and major items include petroleum products, precious metals, stones, gems and jewellery, minerals, food items, and engineering and machinery goods.
India’s major import items from UAE include oil, copper, aluminium, ships and boats.
Today, as India accelerates economic reforms and improves its investment and business environment, and UAE becomes an increasingly advanced and diversified economy, the two countries have the potential to build a transformative economic partnership, not only for sustained prosperity of their two countries, but to also advance progress in the region and help realise the vision of an Asian Century.
UAE is at the heart of the Gulf and West Asia region and its major economic hub. India, with seven million citizens in the Gulf, also has significant energy, trade and investment interests in the region.
(M Shakeel Ahmed is former Editor, PTI. He has also served as West Asia Correspondent for PTI, based in Bahrain from 1988 to 1995. Views are personal.)