What's next in UAE-India relations?

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Whats next in UAE-India relations?

Dubai - Shaikh Mohammed bin Zayed's New Delhi visit to herald a new era in relationship.

By Bikram Vohra

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Published: Sat 21 Jan 2017, 7:00 PM

Last updated: Sat 21 Jan 2017, 10:43 PM

The fact that His Highness Shaikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces is the Chief Guest at India's iconic Republic Day parade this year is indicative of the next and tangibly positive phase in Indo-UAE relations.
The message from New Delhi in moving away from the customary invitation to a Head of State underscores not just the official warmth that marks this departure but also the personal rapport that India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi had established with the UAE during his August 2015 visit. That personal touch from both sides has not just endured but strengthened over the months. If one recalls, that visit spawned the launch of UAE India Economic Forum, which was inaugurated by India's Minister of Finance, Arun Jaitley, on November 16. The forum aims to create closeness between captains of industry and ministry officials.
Indeed, the Crown Prince makes a visit to India at a sober time in the aftermath of the Kandahar attack and the two nations will definitely place the issue of terrorism on the front burner. This is his second visit in the past year and the Centre is making all efforts to ensure it is an exceptionally warm and cordial three days. NRIs will feel a double sense of pride as they watch the telecast on January 26 and see in this presence a tangible reflection of the common path the two nations have chosen to tread in making Middle East a region of peace.
Prime Minister Modi is sharply aware of the Indian diaspora's huge imprint in the UAE and the traditional grounds the two nations share in historical trade and commerce. But it is likely that during this visit, what with the official delegations getting down to talks from January 20 there will be a lot more specifics. These cannot all be second guessed for now but be confident that good news and more good news is round the corner. The India-UAE Strategic Dialogue's preliminary talks will cover defence, security, trade, and investment and also reiterate and readjust the parameters of this comprehensive strategic partnership.
It is clear here in Delhi that special efforts are being made to give the capital a touch of Arabian ambience. The upmarket Lutyens area is definitely being 'reworked' with the emirates in mind. The idea is to project a visible acknowledgement of the arrival of the UAE delegation and make them feel at home. There is also a certain excitement about the participation of a UAE military band and a contingent in the march past taking part in the parade. This is another happy departure from the norm although last year the French were accorded the same courtesy of taking part in the parade.
The UAE prides itself on placing education per se on the top of the totem pole. It wants the best teachers and wants its youth to learn across the board and bring that learning home. For a country of this size the number of specialised educational entities is prodigious.
While there is a fair deal of interest in the import of Indian educational institutions to the UAE where the younger generation is being inculcated in the need of a solid and wide ranging grounding in various disciplines the one new imperative could be in the region of defence co-operation and industry. This initiative would be truly comprehensive and include manufacture of military hardware, terrain oriented vehicles, even specialised equipment and armament manufacture.
The combined military exercises called Desert Eagle were resumed after an eight-year gap in 2016 by the two air forces last year and could herald more frequent such co-operative ventures.
A few adjunct areas that might get a strong fillip include electronics and avionics and the export and import of new technologies. Indians would like to up the ante on sharing intelligence over terrorism and financial crimes and might find that the two nations are on the same page. It may be sensible to recall that both nations had agreed in 2015 to "Coordinate efforts to counter radicalisation and misuse of religion by groups and countries for inciting hatred, perpetrating and justifying terrorism or pursuing political aims. The two sides will facilitate regular exchanges of scholars and intellectuals and organise conferences and seminars to promote the values of peace, tolerance, inclusiveness and welfare that is inherent in all religions."
The UAE has also enjoyed a tremendous respect in the comity of nations and played the role of mentor and diplomat. Its voice of reason for a small country resonated loudly in the forums of the world especially in the GCC and the Middle East where its leaders have been accepted as fair and balanced mediators. This credibility factor has a major influence in New Delhi and now that the UAE endorses India's right to protect its borders as it did after the Uri attack the relationship takes on a more positive dimension.
Prime Minister Modi himself believes firmly in peace in the region and sees the UAE as a major player in maintaining security. Both nations have been victims of terrorism and the UAE has also lost many a son to extremism and understands full well the agony of this scourge as it fights the good fight.
For his part Modi and India's External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj also look forward to giving the Indian community a fillip in the emirates. The general feeling in External Affairs is that Indian commerce and trade with the UAE should be escalated in no uncertain terms with traditional red tape being suitably snipped to attract investment.
On the civilian side trade and commerce which already is targeted at and hitting $100 billion by 2020 could well meet that mark earlier. The pledge made by the UAE to invest $75 billion in India's infrastructural blueprint in the long term has set the tone for more successful joint ventures next week and a large business delegation is expected to accompany the Crown Prince and lay the groundwork for future alliances.
With over two million 'ambassadors' in the UAE and the selection of the official Indian diplomatic representation improving exponentially in professional terms in the past few years, the Modi government is determined to pull out all stops on this visit and reinvent the dynamics with a country he believes has a vital role to play in the stability of the region. No longer is this one of those 'comfortable' sinecures of a posting. There is much to be done together. It is clear Modi recalls the collegial nature of his reception when he arrived here so don't be surprised if he throws protocol to the winds and makes it personal and fetches up at the airport.
The three days will be very busy ones. Clearly, this visit has a new dimension and is not one of those embedded in just courtesy. There is a lot more on this agenda that will be of mutual benefit. New Delhi intends to accord the Crown Prince the privileges extended to a head of state as a gesture of goodwill and camaraderie.
Bikram Vohra is a former editor of Khaleej Times

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