Revitalizing Bilateral Relations: PM Modi’s UAE Visit Sparks New Vigor

Anil Trigunayat

Strengthening cooperation in the cross-border payment systems by enabling integration of transactions between the UAE and India more efficiently, PM Modi’s latest UAE visit witnessed the signing of a landmark MoU between the Reserve Bank of India and the Central Bank of the United Arab Emirates to promote the use of local currencies –rupee and dirham– for cross border transactions. This cooperation will also include the mutual acceptance of domestic card schemes by interlinking national card switches.

After a highly successful sixth visit to France on the 13th and 14th of July, Prime Minister Narendra Modi embarked on his one-day visit to UAE on Saturday. This visit (Modi’s fifth visit to UAE) clearly explains the importance that the two comprehensive strategic partners — India and UAE– accord to the growing bilateral and trilateral relationships.

The fact that the Crown Prince of UAE Sheikh Khaled Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan received PM Modi at the Abu Dhabi airport speaks of an affectionate bonding between the leaders and the two countries. 

This relationship between India and UAE has many firsts to its credit. UAE was the first country PM Modi visited after being sworn in. Even though UAE and other GCC countries are barely a couple of hours away the relationship was marred by the absence of high-level interactions for over three decades. Again, the first country in the region with which India has a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership. UAE also has the unique distinction in the West Asian region of hosting the largest Indian diaspora of over 3.3 million and consequently the increased remittances.

Providing land for an Indian temple, which might be inaugurated in 2024, UAE also projects and is positioning itself as a moderniser and a tolerant nation and a middle power exercising strategic autonomy. Their World Tolerance Summit was well appreciated. It also became the first country in the OIC (Organisation of Islamic Cooperation) to invite an Indian Foreign Minister in 2019 to address the Foreign Minister’s meeting while stunting Pakistani efforts to continuously criminalise the Kashmir issue.

Recognising regional terrorism 

It also recognised that Islamabad and Rawalpindi were harnessing terrorism as an instrument of their foreign policy against India. Hence in the wake of the Pulwama attacks and Indian response as well as on abrogation of Art 370, Abu Dhabi took a holistic view and respected Indian sensibilities.

It has also emerged as a major partner in the fight against extremism, terrorism and radicalisation. It supports India at the UN and the proposed Comprehensive Convention of International Terrorism (CCIT). In fact, it is possibly the first country which has repatriated several wanted offenders and criminals as our intelligence and security cooperation has moved apace.

UAE can easily boast of having the most significant number of Indian companies across the spectrum and the highest inward investments from India while committing $75 billion into India even in new areas. First GCC country to have allowed an Indian company– OVL– to have equity in its exploration blocks as it is engaged in the Indian strategic petroleum reserves, thereby ensuring not only being one of the top five oil suppliers but also ensuring India’s energy security.

India-UAE Trade

Even in the so-called western QUAD or Quartet I2U2, UAE is a critical partner with Israel and USA where several projects including a $2 billion Emirati investment in Food Parks is already in the pipeline. Likewise, India and UAE are integral to new arrangements with the USA and Saudi Arabia focusing on infrastructure and connectivity (IUSU). India has restarted negotiations for the India-GCC FTA and partnership in which CEPA can be a ready format.

As such the trilateral between India-UAE-France has been consistently identifying newer areas of security cooperation, especially given the fact that UAE is as much a part of the Indian Ocean Initiatives including IORA and Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative (IPOI) which are critical for closer maritime security and connectivity.

In the recent trilateral format dialogue of the foreign Ministers and focal points, it was agreed that a road map for cooperation including defence, energy, environment and people-to-people exchanges has to be worked out.

Efforts are being undertaken to further promote compatibility, joint development and co-production, whilst seeking out avenues for further collaboration and training between the three countries’ defence forces. As such Defence, Space and security cooperation have indeed amplified a great deal with frequent exchanges and exercises both bilaterally and multilaterally.

New domains 

No wonder the External Affairs Ministry Spokesman mentioned; “The Prime Minister’s visit will be an opportunity to identify ways to take this (Comprehensive Strategic Partnership) forward in various domains such as energy, education, healthcare, food security, fin-tech, defence and culture.” 

During the visit, it was agreed that IIT Delhi will set up a campus in UAE the second IIT abroad after the one in Tanzania. Also, an important agreement was to bilateral trade settlements in national currencies as the weaponisation of financial instruments and the de-dollarisation is on the anvil. As such UPI and Ru Pay cards have been accepted in UAE and many other countries.

One will have to see if the recent decision on the Indo-Pacific Framework for cooperation agreed in Paris, will extend to eventually include UAE as well. Logically it might. Likewise, Cooperation in Africa with India could be a new trilateral initiative either with France or with Israel or both for ensuring food and maritime security.

UAE as COP-28 chair

Prime Minister Modi also endorsed the UAE‘s COP 28 chairing and the objectives for ensuring no let up in Climate Change goals and pursuit of decarbonisation, access and financing for green technologies and mitigation and adaptation as New Delhi itself follows these assiduously in her own G20 presidency. UAE is a special guest at the G20 and PM Modi reiterated the invite to Sheikh Zayed to attend the September summit. During his meeting with COP 28 Chairman Sultan al Jaber,  the PM extended India’s full support.

UAE is following a ‘No Problem Policy’ with its neighbours as it is diversifying and modernising its economy. China has become a major BRI (Belt and Road Initiative) collaborator for UAE’s quest for economic growth and along with India it is an important partner in their ‘Act East Policy’ framework. Hence, a geo-strategic competition between India and China will have its own repercussions and reverberations in the region especially as the race to the bottom among superpowers has already begun with no end in sight to the Russia -Ukraine war.

Since challenges of a transitional order are confronting the world, including India, the UAE and West Asia, PM Modi’s visit was a timely reiteration of the importance of this pivotal comprehensive strategic partnership and to reemphasise and renew the focus for new vigour in bilateral relations at the highest level.