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UAE’s Grouse Against Pakistan Explains Why it’s Banking on India 

Modi’s recent visit to the UAE marks the beginning of a regional realignment which looks at isolating Pakistan.

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Snapshot

Signs of a Regional Realignment

  • An unprecedented announcement by India and the UAE that the two national security advisers would meet every six months
  • India, an attractive destination for the UAE in terms of pouring surplus funds, also allowing to have a brush with the country’s IT techniques
  • Fissures appear in the Pakistan-GCC partnership, following the former’s refusal to join the war in Yemen
  • India owes it to the UAE in its fight against terrorism when in 2012, the latter extradited LeT and IM terrorists
  • The bonhomie during Modi’s maiden visit to the Arab world signals beginning of a major regional realignment
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Prime Minister Narendra Modi has just concluded a successful stand-alone visit to the United Arab Emirates. In particular, the joint statement on fighting terror together has been hailed in India. It seems to send a clear message to Pakistan at a time when cross-border firing between the two neighbours has left at least eight people dead on the Indian side.

What was unprecedented was that Modi and crown prince Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan decided that the two national security advisers would meet every six months and would host regular counter-terrorism meets. This is an agreement India has not entered into with any other country. The UAE also agreed to work with India adopting the Comprehensive Convention against Terrorism that India had piloted in the UN.

All this assumes importance because hitherto the UAE had not sufficiently appreciated India’s concerns regarding terrorism, while being closely allied with Pakistan.

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Modi’s recent visit to the UAE marks the beginning of a regional realignment which looks at isolating Pakistan.
Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, center left, receives Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of India, center right, at the presidential lounge of the Abu Dhabi airport, United Arab Emirates, August 16, 2015.(Photo: AP)

India, a Natural Choice

Yet, watchers of the region should not be surprised because the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states had been pivoting towards India for some time now.

While the GCC remains the major supplier of India’s energy requirement and foreign remittances, they have in recent years been pursuing a ‘look east’ policy looking for non-Western economies to invest their surplus funds, keen on diversifying their petroleum-based economies by moving into the knowledge industry, especially now, given their recent disenchantment with the US role in the region.

India, therefore, becomes a natural choice for playing a leading role, especially given its IT and technological expertise with its pool of skilled but cheap human resources. In 2013, for instance, the Saudis invested $100 million in a Bangalore R&D centre. India is the UAE’s second largest trade partner.

The past couple of years has seen many high profile visits between India and the GCC, including the foreign minister of the UAE, Saudi King Salman (then crown prince) in 2014 and more recently the Emir of Qatar visiting New Delhi.

India also entered into defence cooperation with a number of GCC states, including the UAE.

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Common Plank of Terrorism

A watershed moment came with the visit of Saudi King Abdullah to India in 2006 and both sides thereafter signed an extradition treaty, whereby in 2012 the Saudis extradited to India wanted Indian Mujahideen and Lashkar-è-Taiba operatives, one of held a Pakistani passport.

This was significant, given that Pakistan was a Saudi ally in the region but it was widely believed that the former’s notoriety as a terror hub had by then already had the Saudis worried. After all, Osama Bin Laden’s avowed objective was the overthrow of the house of Saud.

This terror threat has increased manifold now with the rise of the Islamic State which too seeks dismantling of Arab regimes in the region and whose intent can be seen in the attacks taking place in the heart of the GCC states.

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Modi’s recent visit to the UAE marks the beginning of a regional realignment which looks at isolating Pakistan.
Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan (L), UAE’s foreign minister, speaks during a joint news conference with Sartaj Aziz, Pakistan’s prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s adviser on foreign affairs, in Islamabad, November 7, 2013.(Photo: Reuters)

Disenchantment with Pakistan

Simultaneously, fissures have appeared in the Pakistan-GCC partnership, when Pakistan refused to join the war in Yemen earlier this year.

The GCC, particularly UAE and Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) have poured billions of dollars into the Pakistani economy and Pakistan often provided military and police service for them in a perfect client-patron relationship.

Nawaz Sharif, who had found refuge in KSA during his years of exile, was expected to agree immediately when asked to join the Arab military campaign in Yemen; instead, he took the issue to the Pakistani parliament which voted for neutrality.

The UAE was the first to respond with its Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash tweeting ‘...the moment of truth distinguishes between the real ally and the ally of media and statements...the vague and contradictory stands of Pakistan and Turkey are an absolute proof that Arab security...is the responsibility of none but Arab countries’. Pakistani twitterati had erupted in anger.

The Saudis also let their displeasure known, though in more veiled terms.

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Modi’s recent visit to the UAE marks the beginning of a regional realignment which looks at isolating Pakistan.
An Indian girl holds a poster depicting Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his speech at a cricket stadium, August 17, 2015, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. (Photo: AP)

Strengthening Ties

Contrast this with Gargash on August 17 tweeting a selfie of himself with Modi, saying “flying to Dubai with Prime Minister Modi. Privileged to be a part of his historic visit to the UAE, and to get an insight on a truly remarkable man.” He went on to tell the media “Obviously, India is a country of institutions, and the credibility of New Delhi is attractive and respectable. The future challenges require deep-rooted and dependable friendships.”

The significance has not been lost, certainly not on Pakistan whose media has been speculating since April on whether their refusal to participate in Operation Decisive Storm would pave the way for greater Indo-Arab cooperation. After all, India can offer the GCC whatever Pakistan can offer and more.

Modi’s visit to the UAE has been covered in glowing terms in the UAE media. Sultan Sooud Al-Qassemi, an Emmirati political commentator and a kind of Arab youth icon live tweeted Modi’s speech, going on to say “Indian PM @narendramodi has as much charisma as I’ve ever seen in a world leader.”

On the other hand, a couple of Pakistani media personalities were recently arrested in KSA and UAE, on charges of terrorism and fraud, respectively. Zaid Hamid arrested in KSA is known to be rabidly anti-India.

It might thus be fair to say that it was not just Modi, the UAE too sent out a message to Pakistan during Modi’s visit. And in the near future the GCC can be expected to pursue ties with India with greater vigour.

While the cleavage between Pakistan and the Arabs may not be absolute, what was witnessed during Modi’s visit may be the beginning of a major regional realignment where both sides stand to gain.

(The writer is a Delhi-based freelance journalist)

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