Marhaba (Welcome) <g data-gr-id="44">NaMo</g>! That’s how our Prime Minister was greeted during his visit to Masdar city in Abu Dhabi. Nothing but the fact that an Indian Prime Minister is visiting the UAE after such a long time, highlights the abject neglect of India-UAE relations.
This is despite the fact that India-UAE contact dates back a few millennia when Indians bartered clothes and spices for pearls and dates from the region. However despite this diplomatic negligence, economically and socially the ties with the UAE remain intact. Although bilateral trade has fallen from the $73 billion peak in 2013 to $60 billion, the UAE is still India’s third-largest trading partner and second-largest export destination.
The UAE is home to more than a million Indians who are incidentally the UAE’s largest immigrant community. This is a numerically large community which is working in various capacities, whether it be as nurses in hospitals providing timely medical help or as construction workers and contractors aiding the real estate growth of the Desert Kingdom. Indian immigrants have contributed to the economy of the UAE but incidents concerning them has also been a cause of friction between the two nations. In November, India launched a campaign for higher wages for its workers in the Gulf states. Indian diplomats raised the minimum salaries to hired help as well because of higher living costs. These are welcome steps which will ensure the safety, security and welfare of our considerable diaspora in UAE. The UAE’s support to Pakistan over the Kashmir issue is another factor straining the bilateral relations. India and UAE need to collaborate on the terrorism issue and also on maritime security.
A good extradition framework between the two countries would do immense good to bilateral camaraderie. Tourism between the two countries especially medical tourism to India bears a lot of <g data-gr-id="47">potential</g> and must be provided adequate care. Given the historical cultural and commercial ties, people to people contact <g data-gr-id="46">has</g> immense potential to extend the relations further by including security, defence and renewable energy. However, this relationship needs to be revamped and nourished to tend to the nuanced global scenario of present times.
In view of the rising extremism in our extended neighbourhoods, whether it be the rise of the ISIS or issues of maritime piracy, both nations can leverage their soft power to development better means to address the issue of terrorism. Both also have a significant role in the development of post-war Afghanistan and UAE’s influence can be used to pressurise Pakistan to act against state and non-state perpetrators of terrorism in India.
The UAE has large foreign exchange reserves which can provide much needed FDI for India’s infrastructural and industrial growth needs. India needs to do more to safeguard the rights of Indian workers in the Emirates by looking for a strong mutually agreeable labour protection paradigm to provide protection of jobs, social security, ease of movement etc.
In a constantly evolving geopolitical scenario in the Middle East, the Indo-UAE dynamic no longer needs to remain a second fiddle to the Arab-Israeli issue and needs to evolve in an issue based and a mutually rewarding environment. According to reports India’s trade with the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) had reached $86.9 billion in 2010 itself, putting it ahead of the European Union ($80.6 billion) and ASEAN countries ($44.6 billion).
The UAE is ahead of the United States and China whose trade with the subcontinent is valued at $40.6 and $38.9, respectively. The story of the United Arab Emirates — and of Dubai — is familiar to people around the world by now.
It is a story of how a pioneering band of hardy Bedouin tribesmen created a modern society from the stark desert through sheer willpower, judicious use of natural resources, and relentless promotion of education, innovation and enterprise. It’s a story that resource rich India which is blessed with far more natural and human resources could learn from.