The Pulse

Modi Makes New Strategic Inroads in the UAE

In the UAE, Narendra Modi lays the foundations for a strong partnership between New Delhi and Abu Dhabi.

Modi Makes New Strategic Inroads in the UAE
Credit: Flickr/ MEAphotogallery

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi concluded his visit to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) today. Visiting over the weekend, Modi became the first Indian prime minister to do since the 1980s. Modi’s visit placed great emphasis on improved economic ties between the two countries, which share a major commercial relationship. Following the United States and China, the UAE is India’s third-largest trading partner, with a bilateral trade volume of $60 billion. The UAE is also important for India’s energy security—oil exports from the Gulf Cooperation Council countries, a grouping which comprises the UAE, supply 45 percent of India’s petroleum demand.

In the UAE, Modi met with Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the crown prince and deputy supreme commander of the UAE Armed Forces. The two leaders discussed trade, security, and strategic issues, according to the Press Trust of India. Modi and the crown prince discussed the regional challenge posed by the Islamic State group (ISIS). In recent months, ISIS has started making forays into Afghanistan and Pakistan, raising the group’s threat profile in neighboring India. Modi discussed how the two countries could increase cooperation on countering terrorism.

The two sides also agreed to expand their cooperation on defense matters. Specifically, in the joint statement issued after Modi’s meeting with Sheikh Mohamed, the two sides resolved to “Strengthen defence relations, including through regular exercises and training of naval, air, land and Special Forces, and in coastal defence.” Curiously, the joint statement also included a clause stating that the UAE would “Cooperate in manufacture of defence equipment in India,” in line with the Modi government’s “Make in India” initiative.

According to Indian reports, on economic issues, Modi “made it clear that he wants UAE to be India’s foremost partner in countering terrorism and trade.” The two sides agreed to elevate their relationship to the level of a “comprehensive strategic partnership,” a designation used by New Delhi to denote bilateral relationships of particular significance. Speaking to prominent investors and businessmen in the UAE, Modi noted that India had opportunities for “immediate investment” of around $1 trillion.

Beyond his talks with the crown prince, Modi met with Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the country’s vice president, prime minister, and the emir of Dubai. He visited Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, where he reflected on the monument as a symbol of “peace, piety, harmony and inclusiveness that are inherent to the faith of Islam.” The visit included a strong focus on faith and interfaith exchange. The joint statement included a clause on promoting “efforts to counter radicalization and misuse of religion by groups and countries for inciting hatred, perpetrating and justifying terrorism or pursuing political aims.” It adds that the “The two sides will facilitate regular exchanges of religious scholars and intellectuals and organise conferences and seminars to promote the values of peace, tolerance, inclusiveness and welfare that is inherent in all religions.”

Before wrapping up his visit to the UAE, Modi addressed the Indian community in Dubai. With a community of more than 2.5 million people, Indian immigrants and expatriates comprise a major part of the UAE’s population. Indians in the UAE send home remittances worth around $6 billion per year, contributing significantly to India’s economic vitality.