Shaikh Mohammed’s visit to India ‘unique and important’

By Gulshan Luthra and Vinay Kumar

New Delhi, Feb. 11 (ANI): Abu Dhabi Crown Prince and Deputy Supreme Commander of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) Armed Forces, General Shaikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, arrived here to a very warm welcome by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, ministers and top officials.

Shaikh Mohammed, who is here on a three-day state visit at the invitation of Prime Minister Modi, is accompanied by a high-level delegation comprising ministers, senior officials and business from the UAE. He has, in fact, been to India a couple of times since 1995, but this is the first time he is being accorded the highest status as a head of state in protocol.

Briefing newsmen before Shaikh Mohammed’s arrival, top Indian officials described the visit as “unique and very important,” pointing out that the leadership in the two countries shared common vision for global and regional peace and stability.

It may be noted that in May 1981, when the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi visited the UAE at the invitation of Shaikh Zayed, Shaikh Mohammed’s father, the joint statement noted that “the security and stability of the Indian subcontinent and the Gulf region are interlinked”, and peace in one region is important for the peace and stability of the other.

This position has been reiterated over the years by both the countries, including in 2003 when Shaikh Mohammed visited New Delhi at the invitation of the then Prime Minister, Mr. AB Vajpayee, and signed an agreement for strategic cooperation.

“This visit marks excellent rapport between the leadership of the two countries and comes within months of our Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the UAE in August 2015 which was first by an Indian Prime Minister in the last 34 years,” Anil Wadhwa, Secretary (East) in the Ministry of External Affairs, observed.

During Mr. Modi’s visit, the two sides had agreed to take the bilateral relations forward and elevate them to a comprehensive strategic partnership. They will have an opportunity again now to follow with their discussions and hold delegation level talks, sources told India Strategic.

Describing the UAE as an important trading and business partner of India, particularly for fulfilling nearly 10 percent of India’s energy needs, Wadhwa said that the UAE was the sixth largest source for supply of crude oil to India. Relations between New Delhi and Abu Dhabi had always been friendly and steady in all aspects.

He said that India remained an attractive destination for investment from the UAE, and is also the third largest global trading partner of India after the US and China with bilateral trade touching $60 billion in 2014-15. “Also, nearly 2.6 million Indians live in the UAE of which 60 per cent are engaged in blue collar jobs and 20 per cent are professionals. There are 50 Indian schools also in UAE.”

Though Wadhwa declined to disclose the number of pacts to be signed between India and the UAE during the visit of the Crown Prince, it is likely that several agreements ranging from nuclear energy, oil, IT, cyber security, counter-terrorism and security, railways and aerospace are likely to be appended signed. “There are negotiations still going on to give a final shape to some of the agreements and MoUs,” he said.

The high-level UAE delegation will also visit Mumbai on February 12 and meet Indian business leaders there. A visit to Mumbai stock exchange is on the cards and many UAE businessmen are likely to stay back in India for talks with their Indian counterparts.

Interestingly, India has offered to lend its expertise in aerospace to the UAE and ISRO is willing to cooperate in the UAE’s ambitious plan of launching its Mars mission by 2021. ISRO has many firsts to its credit and its costs of launching satellites is less than half of what the western countries spend on similar missions.

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj is slated to call on the visiting dignitary soon after his arrival, and in the evening, he will be accorded a ceremonial reception at the forecourt of the Rashtrapati Bhavan (Presidential Palace) following which he will call on President Pranab Mukherjee. On his second day, the President will host a lunch for the Crown Prince.

Wadhwa said that the two leaders were likely to discuss ways to contain radicalism and stepping up counter-terrorism cooperation, particularly in the wake of the threat posed by terror outfits like ISIS. “Both sides have a robust mechanism already on intelligence sharing and capacity building as well as in defence sector for manufacture of equipment,” he added.

India and the UAE have historically enjoyed friendly relations anchored on mutually beneficial commercial exchanges and extensive people to people contacts. The UAE is among the largest investors in India in terms of foreign direct investments.

The UAE-India Infrastructure Investment Fund aims to reach a target of $75 billion to support investment in India’s plans for expansion of next generation infrastructure, especially in railways, ports, roads, airports and industrial corridors and parks. The aim is to expanding bilateral trade by 60 percent in the next five years.

India has vital stakes in the security and stability of the Gulf region, which hosts over seven million Indians. This region is also the source of nearly two-third of India’s crude oil requirements and is India’s largest trading partner.

Apart from the investment by Abu Dhabi Investment Authority (ADIA), a number of private investors from the UAE are also looking at India as a destination for investment. The joint statement of August 2015 had noted that an extensive framework of agreements, including economic, defence, security, law enforcement, cultural, consular and people-to-people contacts formed solid bedrock for elevating the bilateral cooperation across the full spectrum of India-UAE relationship.

During Prime Minister Modi’s visit to Abu Dhabi in August last year, both he and Crown Prince Mohamed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan had agreed to chart a new course in their partnership for the 21st century.

The two leaders had agreed to coordinate efforts to counter radicalisation and misuse of religion by groups and countries for inciting hatred, perpetrating and justifying terrorism or pursuing political aims.

In their joint statement, they did not name any country but categorically expressed their opposition to terrorism in all forms and manifestations, wherever committed and by whom, calling on all states to reject and abandon the use of terrorism against other countries, dismantle terrorism infrastructures where they exist and bring perpetrators of terrorism to justice.

Another notable feature of the joint statement was the decision to work together to control, regulate and share information on flow of funds that could have a bearing on radicalisation activities and cooperate in interdicting illegal flows and take action against concerned individuals and organisations.

They had also agreed to strengthen defence relations, including through regular exercises and training of naval, air, land and Special Forces, and in coastal defence and cooperate in manufacture of defence equipment in India. In fact, the UAE has very good capacity in building small naval vessels and the Indian Navy has purchased three Immediate Support Vessels (ISVs) from UAE’s Abu Dhabi Ship Builders (ADSB) and they were inducted at a formal ceremony in Visakhapatnam on March 24 last year. India’s private sector Anil Dhirubhai Ambani Group (ADAG) also has a tie-up with some UAE companies for defence production.

Incidentally, the UAE has built one of the world’s biggest strategic oil reserve facilities and its expertise and experienced could be shared by India. (ANI)

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