Shaping a comprehensive strategic partnership to meet contemporary challenges

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Shaping a comprehensive strategic partnership to meet contemporary challenges
Shaikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan inspects the guard of honour during the ceremonial reception in New Delhi in 2016.

The concerns of the two countries embrace the security scenarios in West Asia and South Asia

By Talmiz Ahmad

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Published: Sun 22 Jan 2017, 7:24 PM

Last updated: Sun 22 Jan 2017, 9:30 PM

The visit of His Highness Shaikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, to India as the chief guest at its Republic Day celebrations affirms the extraordinarily close and multi-facetted ties that have emerged between the two countries. This will be the third encounter between the leaders, following Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit to the UAE in June 2015 and the return visit of Crown Prince in February last year. This visit will take forward bilateral political and economic ties into new areas.
India and the UAE are natural business partners: While India is a global economic powerhouse, the UAE has a diversified economy and is a global centre for trade, logistical connections, tourism and finance. It is also the major supplier of oil to India, is an important trade partner and the premier destination for India's exports, a large part of which is re-exported across West Asia and Africa.
Oil imports of course constitute a crucial factor in bilateral relations, with the UAE being the fifth largest supplier to India. To take energy ties beyond the buyer-seller paradigm, the UAE has agreed to finance a part of India's strategic storage facilities and even use these facilities for the commercial storage of its own crude oil.
The prime minister's visit to the UAE in 2015 had prepared the ground for the shaping of new economic ties that would be relevant to contemporary times, such as cooperation in the frontier areas of technology, including telecommunications, renewable energy, space, desert ecology, advanced healthcare, food security and sustainable development. The UAE has also set up a fund of $75 billion to invest in the development of India's infrastructure.
Expected agreements
The centre-piece of the visit of the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi will be the signing of the 'comprehensive strategic partnership agreement' that will take bilateral ties to a new level of mutual trust and facilitate the shaping of a new Indian role in the Gulf region. The UAE is again the appropriate partner for India in this endeavour.
India's 5,000-year engagement with the peoples of the Gulf has shaped a shared cultural ethos and has provided a high level of cultural comfort to the people linked by the waters of the Indian Ocean. In an environment marked by intolerance, both countries are bastions of moderation and accommodation, and have nurtured societies that are open and free, where diversity is celebrated and peaceful coexistence is extolled as a national virtue.
These values have resulted from "their cultural traditions, spiritual values and shared heritage", as was noted in the India-UAE joint statement issued after the prime minister's visit to the UAE in 2015. The common threat to these values from the forces of extremism and violence has encouraged India and the UAE to set up a powerful front against terrorism through enhanced security cooperation covering intelligence-sharing, joint counter-terrorism operations, and adoption of best practices and technologies by the agencies of the two countries.
Linked with this is heightened defence cooperation consisting of dialogue at strategic and tactical levels, joint exercises and training, and cooperation between the navies of the two countries to maintain the security of the Indian Ocean, and defence production. A military contingent from the UAE marching with the Indian armed forces at the Republic Day parade will highlight the special ties that have been forged between the two countries in the defence field.
The concerns of the two countries embrace the security scenarios in West Asia and South Asia. Thus, the joint statement concluded at the end of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit to the UAE in 2015 had spoken of the need for the two countries to establish a "close strategic partnership" for "these uncertain times", and called upon them to "work together to promote peace, reconciliation, stability . in the wider South Asia, Gulf and West Asia region".
Security challenges
This cooperation has become extremely urgent today. West Asia is experiencing three conflicts, in Syria, Iraq and Yemen, which have acquired the shape of a sectarian confrontation. The region also faces a threat from Daesh that has perpetrated extraordinary atrocities on the diverse peoples of West Asia and on western hostages captured by it.
In these ongoing wars, thousands of people have been killed, millions have been displaced, millions more face humanitarian crises of extraordinary proportions, while the world's ancient cities and shrines have been devastated. The absence of mutual trust between the major regional powers makes the regional security outlook even more uncertain.
This will have grave implications for the security of West Asia and the interests of all Asian countries that obtain the bulk of their energy resources from this region and have substantial economic ties with it. India has the added concern relating to the safety and welfare of its eight million-strong community residing in the GCC countries. Again, though Daesh is presently under assault in both Iraq and Syria, it can still inspire lethal "lone-wolf" attacks against soft targets in West and South Asia.
It is in this background that India and the UAE have not only condemned the misuse of religion to justify acts of violence, they have also, in the joint statement of 2015, condemned efforts by states, "to use religion to justify, support and sponsor terrorism against other countries".
They went further: They also found unacceptable the attempt of regional powers "to give religious and sectarian colour to political issues and disputes, including in West and South Asia, and use terrorism to pursue their aims".
India and the UAE have the shared interest and the capacity to work together to defuse ongoing tensions and promote confidence between the estranged neighbours so that a common front is created against the twin scourges of sectarianism and jihad that threaten the region. This joint effort will give meaning and substance to the "comprehensive strategic partnership" agreed to by the leaders of the two countries on India's Republic Day.
(The author is the former Indian ambassador to the UAE)


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