InterRegional for Strategic Analysis held a panel discussion entitled, "Emerging Trends in South Asia: Emirati-Indian Relations," to discuss the most important opportunities and challenges facing the strategic relationship between India and the UAE. These include the existing challenges in South Asia, in particular the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, escalating terrorist group activity on the borders with Afghanistan, the extensive spread of the new Delta variant of COVID-19 in India, not to mention the negative economic repercussions of the pandemic, and the rising tensions between the US and China.
Dr. Muddassir Qamar, an associate fellow at theManohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies & Analyses in New Delhi and an expert in the field of policy-making and Middle East issues, attended the session. The most prominent issues and main trends addressed in the session are as follows:
Importance of a global geostrategy
The participants focused on the bilateral relations between the UAE and India, especially since both nations enjoy a special geostrategic importance in the world order. First of all, the UAE is a leading regional and international center in various fields, such as entertainment, sports and entrepreneurship, and it has also succeeded in building a diverse economic model that does not rely exclusively on oil. In the field of foreign policy, the UAE plays a pivotal role in the Middle East by offering a moderate and peaceful model of Islam.
In turn, India has exceptional experience in the field of economic transformation and the realization of social prosperity, which makes it part of the advanced global economy, a point it shares with the UAE. The UAE and India also share a common fear of the threat of radical political Islamist groups and the need to confront the terrorist phenomenon in both South Asia and the Gulf, two regions that are linked to each other strategically and geographically.
Culturally, India traditionally hosts many cultures and ethnic and religious communities. Likewise, the UAE embraces numerous nationalities working on its soil.
Launch of the strategic partnership
The panel attendees noted that bilateral relations between the UAE and India witnessed a major transformation in 2017, when His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, attended the Republic of India’s 68th celebration of Republic Day, held at the official ceremonial grounds at Kingsway Square in New Delhi.
During this visit, His Highness signed a strategic partnership agreement between India and the UAE, which included a number of diplomatic, economic, strategic, military, and cultural themes. The most important point of this agreement is that it shifted the pattern of relations between India and the UAE from bilateral to regional, aimed at promoting security in the Arab Gulf and South Asia.
Emerging security cooperation
Some participants discussed examples of the clear and growing cooperation between the two countries. The UAE and India have cooperated in confronting the activities of terrorist groups threatening safety and security in the region. Likewise, the two states have come together to preserve security in the Red Sea area and the Strait of Hormuz, and both are members of the Indian Ocean Rim Association.
There is also major cooperation in the field of intelligence sharing, which has led to averting a number of terrorist operations in both nations, in addition to addressing organized crime, human trafficking, and terror funding.
Consolidation of defensive ties
Likewise, the two nations have been eager to consolidate their military and defense ties since 2016. Military leaders have exchanged visits, and representatives of the two countries’ armies have participated in arms exhibitions held in both the UAE and India, in addition to exchanging ideas and strategic plans and participating in joint military exercises, the last of which was the Desert Flag maneuvers held at Al-Dhafra base in the UAE.
Some participants also referred to cooperation in the field of defense industries and space exploration activities between research centers, companies, and sovereign bodies concerned with these activities.
Renewable energy investments
The cooperation between the two countries also extends to non-traditional security fields, such as food security, higher education, health, the tourism and hospitality sector, and development of human and technological capabilities.
Climate change has imposed itself on the international agenda, and the two nations are seeking to mutually cooperate in this crucial and sensitive area. Their cooperation extends to the renewable energy sector. The UAE is considered a leading country in this field, and India is seeking investment in this field and to bring about a kind of transformation in its domestic energy sector, which is still largely dependent on gas and oil.
Growth of intraregional trade
Another important aspect of these bilateral relations is in the area of trade. India is the UAE’s second-largest trade partner, while the UAE is New Delhi’s third-largest trade partner. From 2019 to 2020, the trade balance between the two nations reached nearly USD 6 billion, and trade is well-balanced between them.
Finally, the attendees addressed the most significant challenges to the development of Indian-UAE relations, notably the prevalence of bureaucracy in India, Iran’s destabilizing role in the region, fears of instability in Afghanistan, and New Delhi’s concern over the growing ties between China and the Gulf.