The visit last week of Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan of Abu Dhabi, who will be the next President of the United Arab Emirates, marks the infusion of fresh spirit in a relatively routine relationship with a view to consolidating it as a key partnership.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi appreciated the significance of a strong bond with the Gulf monarchy which is a progressive state although it is not a democracy, and has the capacity to be a strong source of investible funds for India. The UAE is also home to approximately three million Indians who form roughly a third of the country’s population and have been a vital source of foreign exchange remittances over the past three decades.
Last July, early in his term as PM, Mr Modi visited the UAE and has now hosted Sheikh Mohammed, who is also his country’s vice-president and the head of its armed forces. Evidently there is interest on both sides in giving fresh impetus to ties. UAE is already one of India’s crucial trading partners and an important source of oil.
In the past there has been a degree of wariness about the UAE in India on account of Abu Dhabi’s strong support to Pakistan. Indeed, the UAE regards the sustenance and nourishment of nuclear-capable Sunni Pakistan as a coordinate of its foreign policy, and has invested greatly — just as much as the Saudis have — in an across-the-board relationship with Pakistan.
This is in some measure on account of Pakistan’s geographical location as having a border with Shia Iran, which is held in deep suspicion by the Arab states. The UAE also has disputed territory with Iran in the form of small islands in the Persian Gulf. In spite of the traditional closeness between Abu Dhabi and Islamabad, UAE has shown an open face with India since this country’s ties with the United States began to warm in the post-Soviet era.
There is another factor as well. In recent years UAE has come down hard on terrorism and has consciously developed institutions to confront international terrorism, especially of the ISIS variety. This alone is a strong ground for enhancing cooperation with Abu Dhabi.
While we may seek investment from the UAE, the latter looks at the impressive size of the Indian market and India’s other capabilities. This is the basis of the “comprehensive strategic ties” the two countries now seek to build. This includes cooperation in the field of nuclear power and aerospace as well. All the projected agreements could not be signed during the crown prince’s visit. But both sides have much to gain from the bilateral direction for ties they are looking at. This cannot prejudice our relations with others, including Iran, of course.