Narendra Modi’s Desert Safari

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Image Source: Emirates247.com
UAE is famous not only for its enthralling Skyline dotted with engineering marvels but also the Desert Safari as one of its prime attractions. UAE or the Metropolis of Dubai is usually associated in India with Sprawling Real Estate, Indo-Pak Cricket tournaments in Sharjah and also rather infamously with Dawood & D Company Nexus with Pakistan’s Intelligence Agency ISI. Across the vast desert of Arabia full of turbulence, UAE has emerged as an oasis of a modern Emirati State, which attracts people and investments across the world. Dubai also hosts a huge amount of Expatriate Indian Population -workers who work in the Gulf Region. In this context it would be fair to assume the Indian Prime Minister’s Desert Safari to UAE was indeed strategic with focus on 3 Main Issues i.e. ‘Terrorism’, ‘Trade’ & ‘Investment’ or TTI.
 
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visit to UAE is the first bi-lateral visit to the Emirati state after 34 years. The last PM to visit UAE was Late PM Indira Gandhi in 1981. PM Modi’s visit comes amid a renewed focus of Gulf Region in wake of Iran Nuclear Deal. While the world & the popular narrative remains focused on New Delhi’s ties with Tehran the larger push towards the Middle East region from UAE to Qatar to Saudis & Israel has been missed from the public radar. 
 
Throughout the 1950s and 60s, India took the initiative to engage with the Arab world, building strong ties with countries such as Egypt etc. In fact, India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser shared a great personal friendship and were pivotal in setting up the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). India’s engagement with the region became strained during the 1970s after many Arab nations (and even Iran) gave support to Pakistan over the Kashmir crisis. However, in the subsequent years relations began to normalize, and trade started to flourish. After India liberalized its economy in the early 1990s, its appetite for oil increased significantly, and the Middle East became the biggest supplier, quenching New Delhi’s energy thirst. Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah’s visits to India and China in 2006 were pivotal events, equally from Riyadh’s side as from New Delhi’s and Beijing’s.  From 2006 onwards, India has seen a dramatic increase in relations, both political and economic, with the larger West Asian region, including Israel and Iran.
 
Modi’s Desert Safari to UAE
 
PM Modi’s Desert Safari to UAE began with a Grand Welcome by Crown Prince of UAE & his 5 Brothers who received Indian Prime Minister at the tarmac on his arrival & thereafter accorded him a ceremonial welcome at King’s Palace as is given to visiting Head of Government. The Desert Safari proceeded to the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque following which, he met Indian workers at ICAD City which is an important component of India’s strategic push towards White Collar & other workers working in those states – something that has been neglected since decades. The UAE Govt specially HH Crown Prince announced that UAE Government will allot land in Abu Dhabi to build a Hindu Temple -a gesture that has been widely acknowledged as historic given the religious demographics & restrictions in Gulf States. 
 
The next Day it was a Visit to Masdar City, a Smart City with no carbon foot print built by UAE by harnessing Solar Energy as the primary source of Power & transportation. The Possibilities of harnessing similar projects in India with Investments from UAE Cooperation were also explored. Later, Indian PM Modi addressed a gathering of Industrialists from India & UAE, where the PM exhorted that UAE’s Soft Power & India’s potential can make the Dream of an Asian century a Reality. 
 
A Big Focus of the UAE Visit of Indian PM Modi has been Trade & Investment with India & UAE establishing UAE-India Infrastructure Investment Fund of $75 Bn along with a target of increasing trade by 60% in next 5 years. The Scope of Investment & trade between India & UAE is huge especially in Infrastructure & Real Estate, cold storage and food processing. UAE has showcased some amazing Engineering Marvels by giants like Jumeirah Group of Companies or IFFCO Group of Companies based out of Sharjah who deal in Foodstuffs & processed foods in 70 Countries. In Total it is estimated that Potential of Indo-UAE Partnership is $1 Trillion.  In addition to Trade & Investment Agreements, there exist the Bi-lateral civil aviation pacts with UAE with 700 Flights between Dubai, Abu Dhabi & Indian Cities. In addition India & UAE also agreed to promote strategic partnership in Energy Sector with UAE’s participation in development of India’s strategic Petroleum reserve, safe use of Nuclear energy, Space & backing India’s bid to UNSC Reforms. 
 
Post this, the visit moved to the most awaited outcome of the political & strategic dialogue between 2 nations. The Indo-UAE Joint Declaration has been Landmark as it marks an important part of GCC Countries denouncing terror of any form & its manifestations. Both Countries called on Terrorist Safe Havens to be dismantled & bringing the guilty to books, a huge step given its veiled message to countries like Pakistan which India has been stating is a state sponsor of terrorism. Indian PM Modi also achieved UAE backing for CCIT (Comprehensive Charter on International Terrorism) to be passed by United Nations. Another big step to the already existing defence cooperation was agreement on Cooperation in Counter Terrorist Operations, Intelligence Sharing, Cyber Terrorism, Spread of Radicalisation, and Maritime Security in Gulf Region with respect to Piracy in Arabian Sea & Indian Ocean Region. India-UAE also decided that their NSA’s will meet every 6 months. 
 
Another Element of PM Modi’s strategic push by way of this Counter Terror & Intelligence sharing between India & UAE is to curb the spread of ultra-radical movements like ISIS from Syria-Iraq to South Asian Region. In addition to limiting the spread of ISIS, another big achievement in this visit was that UAE would work in curbing Drug Trafficking & Money Laundering (Dubai is considered as a hub of Underworld Activities & notorious criminals like Dawood Ibrahim covertly backed by Pakistan’s Intelligence Services ‘ISI)’. It would be fair to state that this UAE Visit not only strengthens our Defence & Strategic ties but rather goes a long way in protecting India’s rather wider regional concerns.
 
India & the Gulf Countries (GCC)
 
India wants to secure energy supplies and consolidate economic and trade relations with the Gulf States, while those states (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE, or the members of the Gulf Cooperation Council) have adopted a “Look East” policy that has allowed them to carve out a much more substantive relationship with India than in the past. The economic dimension of India’s Gulf policy has become more pronounced in recent years as well. As a group, the GCC is India’s second-largest trading partner, the largest single origin of imports into India, and the second largest destination for exports from India. The UAE itself was the third largest trading partner of India in 2014-15, after the United States and China, with a bilateral trade volume of $60 billion. The GCC countries supply 45 percent of India’s petroleum, with the UAE being the sixth largest source of oil.
 
Energy is clearly the driving force in Gulf–Indian relations. The GCC countries supply 45 percent of India’s petroleum; the Saudis are responsible for a quarter of those supplies, and Kuwait, Oman, and the UAE are other major suppliers. Qatar remains India’s exclusive supplier of natural gas, annually supplying five million tons of LNG to India.
 
India’s trade and energy security is inextricably linked to the security of the Straits of Hormuz and Bab el-Mandeb. With this in mind, the Indian Navy regularly visits Gulf ports and trains with states in the region. The Indian Navy has undertaken a series of naval exercises with a number of Gulf States in recent years, thereby lending its hand to Indian diplomacy in expanding India’s reach in the region. Indian warships have also been deployed in the Gulf of Aden to carry out anti-piracy patrols on the route usually followed by Indian commercial vessels between Salalah (Oman) and Aden (Yemen). The Gulf of Aden is a strategic choke point in the Indian Ocean and provides access to the Suez Canal, through which a sizable portion of India’s trade flows. 
 
In addition, Indians are the largest expatriate community in the GCC states, numbering around 7 million. There are an estimated 2.6 million Indians in the UAE alone. Indian expatriate labour constitutes around 30 percent of the total population of the UAE, and Indians have a significant presence in Bahrain, Oman, and Qatar. India receives remittances worth around $6 billion annually from its Gulf expatriates. These remittances have contributed significantly to India’s economic resurgence, even as there have been growing concerns in recent years about the living and working conditions in the host countries. India is pursuing manpower and labour agreements with Gulf States to help Indian workers in the region. Modi’s outreach to the expatriates in the UAE was one of the highlights of his visit. 
 
While much of the diplomatic attention has focused on the 7 million Indians working in the region, and the remittances they send back home, as well as on the oil trade, bilateral relations are also becoming more serious on the security front. India already has two main working security understandings in the region, namely with Saudi Arabia and Qatar. While details of India’s strategic understanding with Riyadh remain largely unknown, New Delhi signed an expansive defines agreement with Doha in 2008, thought to be a “one of a kind,” not signed with any other country since. Under the agreement, New Delhi has committed to protect Qatar’s assets and interests from external threats.
 
Modi’s Desert Safari – Strategic implications:
 
Indian’s PM Narendra Modi’s strategic Visit to UAE has wider ramifications not only qua the regional balancing between old traditional friends like UAE & Oman with Iran but also assuring the Gulf Arab States that they are very crucial to India’s policy in Middle East. With India having defence/security pacts with Qatar & Oman already, New Delhi is bound to play an important role in the Region being one of the largest consumers of Oil/Energy after China. With Iran’s Re-entry in to International Community & India’s strategic foray into Iran by Chabhar Port this visit serves as quintessential purpose of assuring & securing the bond with Emirati States which are Crucial not only for energy needs but for the larger Indian Diaspora that works in Gulf Countries.
 
Modi’s Desert Safari to UAE is also aimed to curb the influence of Pakistan given the recent acrimony between UAE & Pakistan, Saudis & Pakistan over Yemen war where Pakistan showed reluctance to be drawn into the War in Yemen with Saudis which sparked angry reactions from UAE & other GCC Countries. India’s Defence & Security Cooperation’s specially projection of its Naval Reach on display in Yemen Crisis further augments New Delhi’s grand strategy of keeping the Gulf States like Emirates, Saudis & Qatar into confidence and maintaining a healthy balance vis-à-vis Gulf Arab States & Theocracies like Iran. India could also end up playing a role of Good Offices since it enjoys Good Relations with Gulf Arab States, Iran & as well as Israel. All of the above provides India with a unique opportunity for strategic forays into the Middle East region unlike Pakistan who has been lopsided & insensitive to many equations that exist in the Region. 
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