India-Gulf Ties - February 2017

Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi is the chief guest at India's Republic Day:

Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan,​ Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and deputy supreme commander of the UAE armed forces, was the chief guest at India's 68th Republic Day celebrations. This visit marked the culmination of an extraordinary interaction that the Indian Prime Minister, Mr Narendra Modi, has had with the countries of the Gulf, which commenced with his visit to the UAE in August 2015, followed by visits to Saudi Arabia, Iran and Qatar. Mr Modi then hosted Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed in India in February 2016.

At India's Republic Day parade this year, nearly 200 armed forces personnel from the UAE took part, signalling the unique camaraderie that has emerged between the two countries in the last few years. The enthusiasm exhibited in India for the strengthening of bilateral ties was fully reflected in the UAE as well: on 26 January 2017, the iconic Burj Khalifa in Dubai was draped in the Indian tricolour, while local newspapers carried several pages of news and supplements extolling the relationship, going back to historic maritime links of 5000 years and then coming to modern times to the visit to India of Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the first president of the UAE, in 1975, and that of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1982.

Local papers also celebrated the role of the resident Indian community, now 2.6 million strong, in the development of the UAE, by highlighting the success stories of Indian stalwarts in diverse fields, including: education, health services, energy, construction, retail, small and medium enterprises, etc. The Khaleej Times titled its supplement on the visit: "UAE and India: Two countries, one soul". After the visit, on 28 January 2017, the front page of Khaleej Times had the headline: "A trip whose legacy will live on".

An editorial in the Gulf News on 25 January 2017 was titled: "A special bond of history". It noted Sheikh Mohammed's view that India is "an effective regional and international force, which has a significant role in ensuring stability in the region and the world"; it then added: "The UAE looks forward to effective Indian contributions in tackling the challenges and dangers faced by region and the world, finding fair solutions to the problems, crises and tensions in the Middle East". An op-ed piece in Khaleej Times said that the two countries had shared concerns relating to the export of terror from the AfPak region to the GCC region and South Asia, and the possible mutation of the Taliban into an ISIS-type media-savvy terrorist group.

During the visit, 14 agreements were signed; these included: the historic "Comprehensive Partnership Agreement", an agreement on strategic oil storage, cooperation in maritime transport, road transport and highways, defence cooperation (to develop synergies in defence industries), visa exemption for diplomatic, special and official passport holders, technology development in cyberspace, cooperation in energy efficiency services, combatting human trafficking, and cooperation in SMEs and innovation.

In a joint article written by Prime Minister Modi and Sheikh Mohammed and published in Indian and UAE papers on 26 January 2017, the two leaders asserted: "We are using the springboard of our friendship to give our partnership a bold new vision that goes beyond our bilateral relations. We will contribute to a regional order that reflects our shared interest in stability, prosperity and tolerance."

The visit of Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed marks a major milestone in India-UAE ties and holds the promise of great expansion and diversification of relations in political, security and defence sectors. Both leaders have committed themselves to an expanded India-UAE role in the promotion of security in West Asia, a point that is clearly reflected in their joint article and the joint statement issued at the end of the visit.

The crucial challenge for both sides now is to ensure that the economic cooperation agreements are implemented and the first steps are taken to give shape to an India-UAE diplomatic initiative to promote mutual trust between the contending powers in the Gulf and ensure that West Asia enjoys peace and stability once again. 

 

February 2, 2017

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About the Author

Ambassador Talmiz Ahmad joined the Indian Foreign Service in 1974. Early in his career, he was posted in a number of West Asian countries such as Kuwait, Iraq and Yemen and later, between 1987 and 1990, he was Consul General in Jeddah. He also held positions in the Indian missions in New York, London and Pretoria. He served as Indian Ambassador to Saudi Arabia (2000-03; 2010-11); Oman (2003-04), and the UAE (2007-10). He was also Additional Secretary for International Cooperation in the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas in 2004-06. In July 2011, the Saudi Government conferred on him the King Abdul Aziz Medal First Class for his contribution to the promotion of Indo – Saudi relations. After retirement from the Foreign Service in 2011, he worked in the corporate sector in Dubai for three years. He is now a full-time academic and holds the Ram Sathe Chair for International Studies, Symbiosis International University. He has published three books: Reform in the Arab World: External Influences and Regional Debates (2005), Children of Abraham at War: the Clash of Messianic Militarisms (2010), and The Islamist Challenge in West Asia: Doctrinal and Political Competitions after the Arab Spring (2013). He writes and lectures frequently on Political Islam, the politics and economics of West Asia and the Indian Ocean and energy security issues.