Can India Counter Taliban With UAE & Israel Under the Abraham Accords?

The cooperation of Israel and the UAE in the Afghan crisis shows the sagacity of the Accord.

5 min read

Last month, two seemingly unrelated but significant events occurred. The Taliban warned Afghan media outlets to not broadcast the Indian Cricket League due to girls dancing and the presence of female audience and spectators in stadiums, as it was not compliant with the sharia law that the Taliban want to establish. The irony is that these matches were being hosted in another Muslim country. which also adheres in many ways to Islamic law — the UAE.

The same week on September 23, India and Israel marked Haifa Day, an event of historical significance. On this day in 1918, the Indian regiment of the British army liberated the port city of Haifa from the Ottomans, which paved the way for the end of the first world war.

Connecting these two are the Abraham Accords, which marks its first anniversary this year on September 15 since its signing in 2020, surprising the world with its boldness and long-term vision.


What Are the Abraham Accords?

It was a historic peace deal between Israel and the UAE, brokered by the Trump administration in the US in August last year for full normalisation of diplomatic relations between the two nations. This has indeed been a breakthrough in a volatile region riven by conflict for decades. The statement released by all three sides said “This historic diplomatic breakthrough will advance peace in the Middle East region and is a testament to the bold diplomacy and vision of the three leaders...”

This has indeed been borne out by subsequent events. Once the UAE crossed that rubicon, it opened up the gates for others to follow. Bahrain followed suit, then Morocco, later Sudan and Kosovo.

On 15 September, 2020, Israel, the UAE and Bahrain signed the Abraham Accords, named after Jewish prophet Abraham, who is believed to be the common ancestor of Arabs and Jew. Thus began the normalising of relations between Israel and a number of Arab Gulf countries, putting an end to decades-old hostility and non-recognition.

A year later, all three countries have succeeded in opening diplomatic representatives in each other's countries and have stationed their respective envoys.

In a striking demonstration of joint action, Israel and the UAE joined hands to recently evacuate 41 Afghan nationals from Afghanistan to the UAE, which included the Afghan girls’ cycling and robotic teams.

What Does This Have to Do With India?

India had welcomed the Abraham Accords. In an interview with Dubai-based Gulf News, India’s External Affairs Minister, S. Jaishankar, had said, “When two strategic friends come closer, it opens up lots of opportunities.”

Both Israel and the UAE have emerged as important strategic partners for India. But India had to do a diplomatic tightrope walk juggling its relationship with Israel on one hand and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries on the other, because of the Israeli-Arab dynamics, which, till recently, were largely framed by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Given Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s affinity for Israel, he successfully dehyphenated India’s relations with Israel from those with the Palestinians, becoming the first Indian Prime Minister to visit both Israel and the Palestinian Territories. Nevertheless, tensions and inconveniences regarding travel and other issues persisted for ordinary citizens. India had even played host to a track-two meeting between Saudis and Israelis.

India, therefore, could not have not welcomed the normalisation between its friends and strategic partners in West Asia.


India Is the 'Preferred' Partner

And dividends have started showing up. Earlier this year, despite the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic, India, Israel and the UAE signed their maiden trilateral agreement, whereby an Israel-based company, Ecoppia, will be producing an innovative robotic solar cleaning technology in India for a landmark project in the UAE. The company claims to be the world leader in robotic solutions for photovoltaic solar. Its manufacturing base is in India, and its global projects span 2,700 MW.

The head of the Israeli mission in Dubai, Ambassador Ilan Sztulman Starosta, had “pegged the innovation and international business potential of the UAE, Israel and India Trilateral to be $110 billion by 2030.” As India is friends with both Israel and the UAE, the ambassador noted that India “is clearly the preferred partner to leverage the global potential of the UAE, Israel and India Trilateral.”

India already has a robust economic and trade relationship with the UAE, being its second-largest trading partner with around $40 billion in non-oil trade; both countries are looking to finalise a comprehensive trade pact that can boost bilateral trade to $100 billion in the next five years. Expo 2020, which kicked off in Dubai on October 1, will see India having the largest pavilion.


A Boost to PM Modi's 'Make In India' Programme

With Israel, India has a robust relationship in defence, including joint manufacture of military hardware, as well as in areas like science and technology, agriculture, irrigation, start-ups, cloud, robotics and many others. India and Israel have established a technological innovation fund, which, for example, would benefit from the UAE’s participation.

There is thus potential galore for all three — India, Israel and the UAE — in trade and economic spheres, with India having a sound manufacturing base, Israel technology, and the UAE one of the world’s largest sovereign wealth funds. This would dovetail with Prime Minister Narendra Modi's “Make in India” programme, which is seeking a boost given the COVID-19-ravaged economy.

The Abraham Accords, however, opening up economic opportunities as it did, were predicated also on profound geopolitical shifts in the region — a steady US withdrawal, the entry of Russia and China, and, more importantly, the rise of political Islam in the region, both the Shia variety espoused by Iran and the Sunni variety by Turkey.

This has necessitated the search for defence and strategic partnerships for the GCC countries elsewhere. Both Israel and India represent such partnerships. All three countries — India, Israel and the UAE — face many similar challenges in defence and security, such as cross-border threats and long coastlines. All three are strategically located. Israeli border defence systems and drone technology remain some of the best in the world. Indigenising its defence production, India has entered into a defence partnership with Israel for joint production, like the Barak 8 long-range surface-to-air missile system. The UAE is modernising its armed forces and the Abraham Accords opens up the floodgates of opportunities in trilateral defence collaboration.


UAE's Restraining Influence on Taliban

All three countries have been victims of religiously motivated radicalism and international terrorism. The ascendancy of the Taliban in Afghanistan and the chaotic withdrawal of US troops from there have greatly alarmed not just the Gulf countries but US allies across the globe. Not only is this expected to give a fillip to violent extremism in the region and even beyond — note the jailbreak by Palestinian militants in Israel soon after — it provides a lurking threat to religious radicalism elsewhere. Not only have groups like al Qaeda hailed the Taliban’s victory, but countries like Pakistan and individuals across South Asia have also done so.

Here, countries like the UAE have a significant role to play. As a modern Muslim state that prioritises pluralism, tolerance and economic development over narrow religious and extremist ideologies, it can have a restraining influence on the Taliban and its backers and is an important partner in combating religious radicalism and violent extremism, while setting an example of a traditional but tolerant Muslim state. Simultaneously, it collaborates with India and Israel in counter-terrorism. Both Israel and India, with diverse populations, prioritise this challenge. Israel and the UAE have already cooperated in the Afghan crisis, which, once again, especially at this pivotal moment for the world, reflects the sagacity of the Abraham Accords.

(Aditi Bhaduri is a widely published journalist and political analyst. She tweets @aditijan. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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