Fresh ideas for UAE-India strategic ties

By Talmiz Ahmad (Thought Leader)

Published: Fri 9 Feb 2018, 10:27 PM

Last updated: Sat 10 Feb 2018, 12:29 AM

When Prime Minister Narendra Modi lands in Abu Dhabi on February 10, he will be taking forward the extraordinary relationship he has established with the leaders of the UAE.
The three earlier engagements of the top leadership have moved bilateral ties into areas not envisaged earlier: those of security and defence cooperation and collaboration in the areas of frontier technologies. The two governments have also noted shared threats to regional peace and stability, mainly through the scourge of religious extremism and terrorism.
The Comprehensive Security Partnership agreement, signed during Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan's visit to New Delhi last year, set out specific action points to promote their mutual interests.
There are three relatively new areas for bilateral cooperation that have the potential to provide long-term benefits to the two countries and the wider region: food security; cooperation in the Indian Ocean region; and the promotion of regional security and stability.
The UAE imports nearly 90 per cent of its food requirements. Hence, it attaches the highest priority to its long-term food security interests. The UAE-India cooperation in this sector has begun with exploring the pioneering 'farm-to-port' project, which envisages a special corporatised farming zone where crops are grown for the UAE market, with dedicated logistics infrastructure for the port.
This partnership can go much further. India loses about 21 million tonnes of wheat annually, valued at $8.3 billion, due to inadequate storage and distribution facilities. It also loses a similar quantity of fruits due to absence of requisite cold storage amenities. Any UAE investment in India's farm-related storage and logistics sector will yield extraordinary quantities of cereals and processed food that would boost domestic stocks and partly meet the needs of the UAE as well.
One aspect of food security that is of increasing concern in GCC countries is that food imports reach these countries by traversing through maritime chokepoints, which are vulnerable to geopolitical risk. This in turn highlights the importance of India-UAE maritime cooperation.
Economic connectivity across the Indian Ocean region, including energy, trade, investments and human resources, are already substantial. The bulk of Middle Eastern oil production is today consumed in Asia. At the same time, almost 90 per cent of the GCC food imports pass through the maritime chokepoints in the region - the Suez Canal, the Bab Al Mandab and the Straits of Hormuz.
The Indian Ocean is today in the throes of competition and conflict, where failed and failing states have bred dangerous forces of discord and destruction. The UAE is already seeking to establish a place for itself in the turbulent region of the western Indian Ocean to forestall attempts to interrupt the free flow of maritime traffic through the Bab El Mandeb by geopolitical adversaries, extremist groups or pirates.
India has broader concerns of its own about recent developments by other Asian powers in the region's waters. As a result, like the UAE, India is also concerned about the absence of a trans-oceanic comprehensive security management system.
By pursuing a thorough reform of the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) and linking it with the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS), India and the UAE could shape a diplomatic initiative to promote government-to-government dialogue and policy coordination mechanisms that would embrace the Indian Ocean community.
The two countries are well-suited to pursue this initiative. Their long-term energy, economic and security interests are crucially linked to stability across the Indian Ocean Rim, particularly in South and West Asia.
Again, India has solid naval and merchant navy capabilities, while the UAE is a leading hub for regional energy, trade, finance and logistical links. Above all, both the UAE and India have the best possible diplomatic, energy, economic and strategic ties with almost all the principal nations within and outside the IOR littoral.
However, for maritime cooperation to yield long term value, the two countries would need to work together to address the competitions and confrontations nearer home - in the Middle East itself.
Since the disruptive events of 2011, the security scenario in the Middle East has deteriorated considerably. Now, the two major regional powers, Iran and Saudi Arabia, are at loggerheads, a number of states remain embroiled in internal conflict, and extremism remains a widespread challenge.
A collaborative role by India and the UAE to promote regional stability seems to be a daunting challenge since India has so far been reluctant to involve itself diplomatically in intra-regional disputes.
However, given its long-term interests, crucially linked with its energy security, economic well-being, its logistical links to Afghanistan and Central Asia and the welfare of its eight million-strong community, India has every incentive to pursue diplomatic initiatives that could contribute to promoting stability in the region. For the UAE regional stability is important for its ambitious development plans.
A first step towards exploring out-of-the-box ideas would be a UAE-India conclave, initially on Track-II basis, that also associates some of the principal Asian powers - China, Japan and South Korea - which have shared concerns relating to regional security.
This would be a significant achievement of the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership for the people of both countries and the neighbourhood they share.
- Talmiz Ahmad is a former Indian ambassador to the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Oman

Follow us on Google News-khaleejtimes

More news from