Modi's UAE visit, a turning point

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is an important turning point not only in India’s relations with the UAE but in its fight against terrorism. A joint statement issued during the visit signals a meeting of minds on the question of countering terrorism. Although bilateral ties have been strong hitherto – the UAE being one of India’s largest suppliers of crude oil and the two countries being robust trading partners – on issues related to terrorism the UAE was not sympathetic to India’s concerns. It took Pakistan’s side even on the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai and has provided sanctuary to several terrorists and underworld dons, such as Dawood Ibrahim, who are wanted in India. The UAE was among the only three countries in the world – the other two being Pakistan and Saudi Arabia – to recognise the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.

In these circumstances, India-UAE bilateral cooperation could not grow beyond a point. That could now change with the two sides indicating interest in fighting terrorism together. The statement issued during Modi’s visit, which calls on all countries to abandon the use of terror against others, is a thinly veiled joint call to Pakistan to mend its ways. India and the UAE have also pledged to cooperate in counter-terrorism operations, intelligence sharing and controlling the flow of terror funds. The rise of the Islamic State has finally forced the UAE to act against terrorism. Its choice of India as an ally in that fight is a wise move.

With an eye on the $800 billion UAE sovereign wealth fund, Modi made a pitch for greater investment in India. The joint statement indicates that the UAE is interested. However, if
India is keen to emerge as an important destination of Emirati investment, it needs to become a country that is easy to do business with. Bureaucratic red tape is said to have turned away Emirati investors in the past, including NRIs based there.In its approach to the Indian diaspora, India’s foreign policy establishment is enamoured only with the accomplishments of those living in the West. The hard work, achievements and contribution via remi-ttances to the Indian economy of millions of Indians in West Asia has gone by largely unacknowledged. In the UAE, India sees Bollywood as its main soft power resource. However, it has another, more potent soft power resource here: the 2.6 million-strong Indian community in the UAE. This is a valuable resource that India must deploy strategically to further its influence and interests in the region.

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