The outcome of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the United Arab Emirates surprised people not only in India, but also across India’s entire western neighbourhood. It was no secret that relations with the UAE over the past two decades have been correct and cordial, but not necessarily close. The UAE was perceived as a country where Dawood Ibrahim celebrated the marriage of his daughter and where no effective action was taken to end the hijacking of IC-814. This was quite different from their actions in August 1984, when they not only ended the hijacking of an Indian Airlines aircraft but also sent the hijackers back to India.
Not only was Mr. Modi personally received and hosted by the Crown Prince (in the absence of the ruler who has been unwell), but the reception he got, including an opportunity to address a mass gathering of Indians in Dubai, was unprecedented. The visit produced agreements to jointly fight terrorism through intelligence sharing, with an agreement to ‘work together to promote peace, reconciliation, stability, inclusiveness and cooperation in the wider South Asia, Gulf and West Asia region’. Defence ties are set to be enhanced through regular exercises and training of naval, air, land, Special Forces and coastal defence. What we are seeing are the beginnings of a new ‘Look West’ policy extending our strategic reach across the oil rich Arab/Persian Gulf.
Our entire western neighbourhood, from Pakistan and Afghanistan to Turkey, is seeing tectonic changes. With the US now a net exporter of gas and the second largest producer of oil in the world, India’s importance of an importer of oil and gas gains importance in the oil rich Gulf. Its growing defence potential assumes salience. The decision of the UAE to transform India’s role in the Arab Gulf region could only have ben taken in consultation with its allies—Saudi Arabia, Oman, Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar. It is imperative that the momentum generated by the visit to the UAE should be reinforced by new moves towards the UAE’s Gulf Arab partners, notably Saudi Arabia. This region is home to over 7 million Indians who remit back over $40 billion annually. It also meets around 70 per cent of our energy needs.
Amongst the reasons for the Gulf Arab countries seeking to enhance ties with India is their growing disillusionment with what they see is a duplicitous Pakistan that has milked them for economic assistance and concessional oil supplies, with promises, especially from Nawaz Sharif, of security assistance. But, when push came to shove, Pakistan rejected requests from Saudi Arabia for security assistance, as a crisis erupted following developments in neighbouring Yemen. The anger of the Arab Gulf countries at what was seen as Pakistani duplicity was reflected by the UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Anwar Mohammad Gangash, on April 24, after the Pakistan parliament passed a unanimous resolution asserting that ‘Pakistan should maintain neutrality in the Yemen conflict’.
Quite evidently speaking on behalf of all the Arab Gulf countries, Gangash warned Pakistan of having to pay a “heavy force” for taking an “ambiguous stand” at a time when “the Arab Gulf is in a dangerous confrontation, its strategic security is on edge”. Rather than overlooking what the UAE minister said, Pakistan responded viciously. Its Interior Minister, Nissar Ali Khan, lashed out at Gangash, while accusing the UAE of “issuing threats in violation of all diplomatic norms”. Pakistan has clearly not understood the change in the policies of the Gulf countries towards India, after the visit of the Late Saudi monarch King Abdullah to India in January 2006.
The decision to establish a $75 billion UAE-India Infrastructure Fund and facilitate UAE investment in India is a landmark decision. But, it can bear fruit only if we create more conducive, predictable and business-friendly regulatory and investment climate in our country.
The writer is a former diplomat