The dynamism we see in India-UAE relations constitutes a significant Indian foreign policy success The Modi Govt. has gone ahead purposefully in building the ties
The decision to invite the Crown Prince of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to be the chief guest at our 2017 Republic Day will serve to boost our bilateral ties with multiple objectives. Normally only heads of state or governments are invited as chief guests, but an exception has been made in this case. Our relations with UAE are important in many ways. Our expatriate community there which numbers 2.6 million sends back remittances worth $12.57 billion. Eight per cent of our energy imports, amounting to 16.11 MMT last year, were from UAE and we intend to import an additional 2.5 MMT.
At the political level, the Modi government has gone ahead purposefully in building India-UAE ties. Sh Modi visited the UAE in August 2015 and was very well received, with the Crown Prince along with his five brothers receiving him at the airport.Maintaining the momentum of ties,the Crown Prince visited India in February 2016. As chief guest it will be his second visit to India within a year.
Our enhanced attention to the Gulf countries and beyond in West Asia constitutes our Link- West policy. Because of the region’s great importance to us for reasons , we need to step up our engagement with key countries in it. This is all the more so because of growing instability in the region. The rise of the Islamic State (IS), which is occupying parts of Iraq and Syria, has injected a form of religious extremism and violence in the region, the reverberations of which are being felt well beyond it- in Europe, the US, Afghanistan, in Bangladesh and so on. The impact on India is as yet limited , but we cannot be complacent.
The security situation in this region has become particularly volatile, endangering our interests there. The Gulf States have played their part in the rise of extremism in the region to serve the goal of ousting Assad and countering the extension of Iranian power there. Now that the IS has turned against the Gulf states, their interests and ours are converging on the issue of combating terrorism. In this regard the UAE has been particularly supportive of India’s concerns about terrorism as was evident during Shri Modi’s August 16-17, 2015 visit to the UAE. Despite being a victim of jihadi terrorism promoted by Pakistan for years, India was not supported on this issue by the GCC countries. The UAE was one of the two countries that actually recognized the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. The joint statement issued on the occasion of Shri Modi’s visit was remarkable in many ways. It announced “the start of a new and strategic partnership” between the two countries. On the issue of religious extremism and terrorism, it reflected an unprecedented convergence of views between an Islamic country and India, especially with Pakistan in mind. The two countries, it said, “condemn efforts, including to use religion to justify, support and sponsor terrorism against other countries”. Even more explicitly, it said that “they also deplore efforts by countries to give religious and sectarian colour to political issues and disputes, including in West and South Asia, and use terrorism to pursue their aims”.
In a further swipe at Pakistan, the joint statement called “on all states to reject and abandon the use of terrorism against other countries, dismantle terrorism infrastructures where they exist, and bring perpetrators of terrorism to justice”. Another Pakistan-directed formulation was the call to “all nations to fully respect and sincerely implement their commitments to resolve disputes bilaterally and peacefully, without resorting to violence and terrorism”. The Indian proposal for a Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism, which has languished in the UN because of Arab opposition, received UAE’s support with the two sides agreeing to work together for its adoption. Consistent with this joint statement, the January 2016 terrorist attack against the Pathankot airbase was condemned by the UAE.
As a part of building a strategic partnership, it was decided during the Modi visit to hold a dialogue both between the National Security Advisors every six months and additionally between the National Security Councils of the two countries. It was further decided to together strengthen maritime security in the Gulf and the Indian Ocean region, promote inter-operability for evacuation in conflict situations, fortify defence relations, including through regular exercises and training of naval, air, land and Special Forces, and work together in coastal defence. Significantly, the UAE supported India's candidature for permanent membership of the UN Security Council, which Pakistan strongly opposes.
The Gulf countries, including the UAE, have large sovereign funds that we would like to see invested in our country. We have been discussing possibilities of such investments with the UAE and others for some time now but with limited success. The UAE is the seventh largest investor in India, with FDI from the country standing at $4.03 billion between April 2000 and March 2016. With Shri Modi’s determination to making it easy to do business in India, the high rates of growth of the Indian economy, the slowdown of growth in China and problems in Europe, the environment for Gulf country investments in India is improving. The UAE investments such as those by Emaar and Etilsalat have faced problems, and this has not been helpful in attracting more investment from the private sector. Our bureaucratic machinery needs to address the problems expeditiously and with strategic foresight. During Shri Modi’s 2015 visit it was agreed that the UAE investment institutions will be encouraged to raise their investments in India, including through the establishment of UAE-India Infrastructure Investment Fund, with the aim of reaching a target of USD 75 billion to support investment in India's infrastructure, especially in railways, ports, roads, airports and industrial corridors and parks. It appears that the UAE side is waiting for the Indian side to issue the bylaws, documentation and mechanisms for operating this fund.
Another highlight of Shri Modi’s visit was the decision to promote a strategic partnership in the energy sector, including through UAE's participation in India in the development of strategic petroleum reserves, and upstream and downstream petroleum sectors. The two sides have beenworking on resolving tax-related matters in this regard and some progress is expected to be announced during the Crown Prince’s visit. India-UAE bilateral trade stood at almost 50 billion in 2015-16, making it India’s third largest trade partner. The target of increasing bilateral trade by 60% over the next five years was set during the Modi visit.
The other areas in which the Crown Prince’s forthcoming visit is expected to register progress are in defence cooperation by way of participation in the Make in India in defence manufacturing and procuring of some defence items from India. It is hoped that a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership Agreement between India and the UAE will be signed during the visit. Apparently, it will be the first time that the UAE will be signing such an agreement with a foreign country. The agreement is expected to cover cyber security, counter-terrorism, maritime security and the Indian Ocean Rim.
All in all, the dynamism we see in India-UAE relations constitutes a significant Indian foreign policy success.
( The writer is a former foreign secretary and a retired IFS )