India, UAE cosy up as Pakistan dozes

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s just-concluded visit to United Arab Emirates, the first by an Indian prime minister in 34 years, is a timely initiative which has caught Pakistan off-guard at a stage when relations between the UAE and Pakistan have been souring. That earlier prime ministers did not deem fit to visit this oil-rich country which makes huge NRI remittances is proof of chronic apathy and lack of drive of earlier governments.

The manner in which the Modi team, including National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and Foreign Secretary Jaishankar, got the UAE government to substantially support India’s stand on Pakistani terror is a major shot in the arm for New Delhi, especially as the Emirates has consistently had very close ties with Pakistan.

A confident Prime Minister Modi mentioned every South Asian country, from Afghanistan to Bangladesh, as a partner in India’s progress, saying: “Those who do not wish to join us can choose their own destiny.” The obvious reference was to Pakistan.

In April this year, as Pakistani lawmakers called for their government to remain neutral in the crisis in Yemen, they evoked a strong response from the UAE. “The vague and contradictory stands of Pakistan and Turkey are an absolute proof that Arab security — from Libya to Yemen — is the responsibility of none but Arab countries,” UAE’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Dr Anwar Mohammed Gargash said at that time.

References that might have once applied to ties with Pakistan were replete with India in Monday’s joint statement issued at the end of Modi’s visit to UAE. It said: “Proximity, history, cultural affinity, strong links between people, natural synergies, shared aspirations and common challenges create boundless potential for a natural strategic partnership between India and UAE.

Indeed, the joint statement issued by Modi and UAE Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan is significant because of the veiled warning it contains for Islamabad and the strategic partnership it forges between UAE and India while enhancing cooperation in counter-terrorism operations and intelligence sharing.

Evidently, UAE perceives a growing threat from the radical outfit Islamic State and has realised that when it comes to the crunch, Pakistan would not stand with it against IS. The Emirates royalty is evidently suspicious of IS’s intentions and has developed a strong faith in India’s ability to counter the evil designs of the Islamic State.

At the back of it all is India’s new economic clout, the recognition across the world that India is an emerging power, and its effective defence modernisation strategies.

In a veiled message directed at Pakistan, the joint statement with UAE made it clear: “The two nations reject extremism and any link between religion and terrorism. They condemn efforts, including by states, to use religion to justify, support and sponsor terrorism against other countries. They also deplore efforts by countries to give religious and sectarian colour to political issues and disputes, including in West and South Asia, and use terrorism to pursue their aims.” This cannot but be music to Indian ears.

What is even more noteworthy is that the statement committed the two countries to “opposing terrorism in all forms and manifestations, wherever committed and by whomever, calling on all states to reject and abandon the use of terrorism against other countries, dismantle terrorism infrastructures where they exist, and bring perpetrators of terrorism to justice”.The reference clearly is to Pakistani training camps for terrorists where young men are readied for terror assaults in India. It is encouraging that India and UAE are on the same wavelength on Pakistani terror infrastructure.

Another significant outcome of Modi’s two-day visit and his talks with the Crown Prince was the decision to set up an UAE-Indian Infrastructure Investment Fund.

The UAE will cooperate in the manufacture of defence equipment in India and “encourage the investment institutions of UAE to raise their investments in India, including through the establishment of UAE-India Infrastructure Investment Fund, with the aim of reaching a target of USD 75 billion to support investment in India’s plans for rapid expansion of next generation infrastructure, especially in railways, ports, roads, airports and industrial corridors and parks.”

The target is to increase trade between the two countries by 60 per cent in the next five years, an achievable target if there is due follow-up to Modi’s visit. The UAE has, over the years, had a happy experience with Indian migrant labour which is hard-working and largely conformist and accustomed to working in tough conditions. The Pakistani migrants are by comparison more demanding and fussy.Indian migrants, who now number a whopping 30 per cent of the UAE’s population, contribute 20 per cent of India’s total remittances.

The joint statement also looked at ways of promoting a strategic partnership in the energy sector, including through UAE’s participation in India in the development of strategic petroleum reserves, upstream and downstream petroleum sectors, and collaboration in third countries. Another dimension to the Indo-UAE cooperation would be the strengthening of  maritime security in the Gulf  in which the two countries would take joint action to combat any Chinese designs on the Indian Ocean.

While on the face of it Modi’s visit to UAE appears to have been eminently successful and fruitful, there is a predictably negative attitude that is reflected in the reaction of the Congress party. The principle Opposition party is guilty of criticising every action of the government in India and abroad and losing credibility in the process. It is time Congress bigwigs Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi realise the harm that they are doing to their party in the public eye. They must shed their intransigence and learn to be a constructive opposition which is wedded to the country’s national interest. Is that too tall an order?

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