India and UAE flags
HH Sheikh Zayed bin Nahyan, father of UAE, presciently foresaw in 1970, “Our relations go back some four thousand years when we had flourishing trade and commerce with India; and now that we are about to be independent, we would like these bonds to be restored and strengthened in every possible way…there are boundless possibilities for trade, commerce and even joint projects.”
As a resilient and modern comprehensive Strategic Partnership takes shape, we realise how prophetic the words were. With two way trade at $60 billion, India is UAE’s largest trading partner. For India, UAE ranks third after US and China. The 2.6 million strong community remit $14 billion annually and act as catalyst in entrepreneurship and development of UAE. UAE’s investments into Indian economy are growing in areas like infrastructure, energy, healthcare, retail, hospitality and real estate. India has ambitious plans to develop highways, ports, airports and logistics hubs. Some of UAE’s largest companies are world leaders in development of infrastructure, and interested in ports, highways, airports in India. The UAE’s big sovereign wealth funds- Abu Dhabi Investments Authority and Mubadia- IPIC – want to make India their next big investment destination. UAE wants to go into India. Frankly speaking, India needs the UAE more than the other way round.
During Modi’s 2015 visit, UAE pledged to invest $75 billion in Indian infrastructure, aircraft manufacturing, technology and security. Now development of nuclear submarines and reactors in India by import of n-reactors, R & D in science and technology constitute other areas.
UAE Space Agency mulls cooperation with Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) for its ambitious plans. UAE wants to invest massively in futuristic areas like high-tech manufacturing, creative industries, innovation pods. Masdar city is a trend setter for the world where one can reach destination sitting in driverless pods. As a major exporter of crude oil, UAE reliably partnered India’s energy security but now wants to diversify beyond oil and gas by leveraging new technologies. India is a partner of the Abu Dhabi based International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). UAE intends to join Indo-French initiative of International Solar Alliance and India. UAE is wincing away from Pakistan’s terror syndicates who have huge business interests in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. The killing of five UAE diplomats in Kandahar in terror strike helps UAE appreciates India’s view on Haqqani, Taliban and Pakistani sponsors like ISI. Both detest the use of religion to justify, support and sponsor terrorism or use terrorism as instrument of state policy.
UAE deported several terrorists to India in recent years. UAE shares Indian values of secularism, and religious tolerance for an open, multicultural society that respects different faith, ethnicity and language. Friday sermons as per government rules, inclusive religious practices, ‘Youth circles’ for toleration and moderation, and cleaning text books to counter extremism reflect UAE vision of moderation. India appreciated land allotment for temple in Abu Dhabi. Crown prince’s visit to Delhi, third from Middle East, as chief guest signals growing synergy. Despite sharing historic trade ties, India had been luke warm towards Middle East and needed a strategic partner to revive relations and play a greater role in the region. With modern outlook, moderate ethos and culture of innovation, UAE is perfectly poised to forge a stable regional order for security and prosperity. Geopolitical scene of the region is too complex: a less – interested US, more belligerent Iran, Russian hobnobbing, challenges of terrorism, Chinese proximity to Iran and Pakistan and strategic rivalry with US. India being US’s strategic ally, and India’s historic bonding with Gulf adds to the mix. Middle East nations truly follow their culture and religion unlike Pakistan which uses religion to divide humanity.
At UN last October, fundamentalist Pakistan whipped up religious hysteria over Kashmir with Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) leaders, so ties with a moderate modern-looking UAE could be a strong antidote to religious radicalism. Crown Prince’s visit to a country with second largest Muslim population, displays gesture of brotherhood for Indian Muslims. Arabs developing a multi-dimensional relationship with India is welcome. For long India regarded Middle East as a diplomatic minefield with too many political and sectarian cross currents and ceded the Gulf to Pakistanis as natural South Asian ally. India now rethinks its Gulf policy. With a $ 400b economy, $ 67000 capita income, visionary leaders and global vision, a progressive country like UAE can best serve as India’s strategic partner in the Gulf. Geopolitically, Gulf Arabs had been waiting for India to claim its space in the region that used to be dominated by US for decades. The journey began with visit of late King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia in 2006. Now is the time to move to next level.