India-UAE ties on the up thanks to Narendra Modi and Mohamed Bin Zayed, but does reality match the hype?

FP Staff
Prime Minister Narendra Modi is set to visit the United Arab Emirates (UAE) during his West Asia trip.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is set to visit the United Arab Emirates (UAE) during his West Asia trip. Modi, who will be in the UAE on 10 and 11 February, is slated to address the sixth World Government Summit in Dubai. This will be Modi's second UAE trip €" the first was in August 2015, when Modi became the first Indian leader to visit the UAE in 34 years. The trip is seen as the government attempting to further bilateral ties with the oil-rich nation.

According to a report in the Economic Times, security and economic ties between the two nations have deepened since Modi's 2015 visit and since India reciprocated by inviting many Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) leaders to the 2017 Republic Day parade, including  Abu Dhabi crown prince Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, who was the chief guest and who Modi broke all protocol to greet at the airport. Indeed, India and the UAE used the afterglow of both visits to sign a slew of bilateral agreements.

Khaleej Times reported that in February 2016, during Al Nahyan's visit to New Delhi, India and the UAE signed agreements on cyber security, infrastructure investment and insurance. Nahyan and Modi deliberated extensively on combating the threat of terrorism including from the Islamic State, and explored ways to enhance bilateral cooperation in counter-terrorism, maritime security and defence, the newspaper reported.

According to a report in Livemint, in February 2017, the countries signed several pacts, including one to boost India's energy security by establishing a framework for setting up a strategic reserve of crude by the Abu Dhabi National Oil Co, and agreed to ramp up defence cooperation, including manufacturing and research and development between public and private sector institutions of the two countries. However, an agreement which aimed at assembling an administrative structure for the management of funds from the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority (ADIA) and India's National Investment and Infrastructure Fund (NIIF) did not materialise, according to the report.

This Firstpost article argued that while the media attention focused on investment between the two nations, it is security where the most progress has been made. "While India and UAE agreed signed an extradition treaty back in 2000, they did little else which could be considered a component of a strategic relationship," the article stated. "However, during Modi's landmark 2015 visit, they agreed to elevate the relationship to a 'comprehensive strategic partnership' and stated that they were looking 'forward to the early signing of the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership Agreement' during Mohammed's February 2016 visit to India, and both sides finalised and signed a framework agreement", the article stated.

Suparna Dutt D'Cunha, writing in Forbes, argued that four high-level visits in the last three years have expanded relations between the countries. "PM Modi's government has sped up the process to transform the ties between India and the UAE from just a buyer-seller relationship into a strategic alliance. The initial momentum to elevate the bilateral relations came from the comprehensive strategic partnership, signed by Al Nahyan and Modi."

"The initial momentum to elevate the bilateral relations came from the comprehensive strategic partnership, signed last year by Al Nahyan and Modi," she wrote, adding that Indian ambassador to the UAE Navdeep Singh Suri, praising India's relationship with the Gulf nation, used the golden era. "That is not an exaggeration," she wrote in Forbes.

>'UAE's $75 billion pledge unfulfilled'

However, Rajeev Sharma,  a commentator on global strategic affairs, speaking to the UAE newspaper The National,  said that Modi would be looking to follow up on the UAE pledging to invest $75 billion in India, a promise which was made two-and-a-half years ago during his Abu Dhabi visit. Sharma stated that although a deal worth $1 billion was announced last year, it remains unclear whether the amount was transferred to India.

"Nothing concrete has been achieved on this front yet. The Modi government needs this fund at the soonest possible for its own domestic political reasons. With elections due in 2019, if the $75bn UAE investment were to materialise quickly, it would demonstrate to the electorate the Hindu nationalist government's credibility in the international community, particularly as it would be coming from a Muslim nation like the UAE," Sharma told the newspaper.

>'Second visit indicates importance of relationship'

"Prime Minister Narendra Modi's second visit to the UAE is an indication of the special importance we attach to the India-UAE relationship," India's Ambassador to the UAE Navdeep Singh Suri said. According to him, the visit builds in the momentum that has developed since India hosted Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed as chief guest on Republic Day in 2017.

Besides bilateral engagements, Prime Minister Modi is scheduled to address members of the Indian community at the Dubai Opera House. "During the year, we have seen major UAE investments into India, a significant increase in defence and security cooperation, a transformation in our energy ties from a buyer-seller relationship to a strategic partnership. "For the community, the first Hindu temple in Abu Dhabi will be great news," Suri said.

Echoing Suri's sentiments, the UAE ambassador to India Ahmed Al-Banna said the visit "tells us the direction that India and the UAE have in mind and also the characteristics of our respective leaderships."

"The leadership has put us on a challenging and interesting track where the relationship is very important, on many sectors, and our leaders are pushing to rewrite future plans for both nations," Al-Banna said. While Ambassador Suri highlighted the trade and investment component of this rapidly-evolving relationship, Ambassador Al-Banna chose to emphasise on the connectivity aspect of it.

"There are 1,076 flights a week between India and the UAE, which is the largest operation of its kind. More than 50 percent of Indians, who travel outside India to different destinations, such as Europe or America, use Dubai and Abu Dhabi as their transit hub," he said. Close to three million Indians are living in the UAE and repatriating $13.6 billion a year from the Gulf nation to India.

With inputs from PTI View More