UAE’s Crown Prince to get a royal welcome

The Emirati Royal’s presence at the Republic Day ceremony underscores New Delhi’s efforts to woo Islamabad’s traditional allies

January 10, 2017 12:01 am | Updated November 28, 2021 10:11 pm IST - NEW DELHI:

 Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan.

Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan.

Officials will meet for the first India-UAE Strategic Dialogue here on January 20 for preliminary talks on defence, security and investment, sources say. The talks come 18 months after the two nations announced a strategic partnership during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Abu Dhabi and a week ahead of UAE Crown Prince Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan’s visit to Delhi for Republic Day.

Officials say the talks will be led by Union Minister of State for External Affairs M.J. Akbar and will include National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar “if they are needed”. In particular, a $75-billion infrastructure fund set up by the UAE for India and India’s hopes for closer counter-terror cooperation will be discussed.

“Since this is the first Strategic Dialogue, we are exploring our options on the format and the level of talks for the future, which is why we are keeping it flexible,” said a diplomat involved in the planning for the visit, who said India and the UAE are “making up for lost time” on their relationship.

However, officials refused to confirm reports in the media last week that the UAE government had already moved to seize property and assets of Mumbai blasts accused Dawood Ibrahim, who is known to have based much of his empire there.

Defence focus

“There is a lot we have on the table,” Navdeep Suri, Indian Ambassador to the UAE, told The National newspaper, while describing the upcoming dialogue. “Defence is important because we live in a fairly volatile period and in a region that has been particularly hit by that volatility. In that region, India and the UAE are islands of stability and there is a recognition that by working together, we can contribute a lot more to regional stability.”

Ahead of the visit of Sheikh Mohammad bin Zayed, New Delhi is pulling out all the stops to showcase ties between the Gulf country and India, with the UAE Army expected to march with Indian soldiers down Rajpath on January 26.

The invitation itself is a rare exception for India, officials said, as the government has invited a leader who is not a head of state or head of government for the first time in 50 years. In 1965, the guest for the Republic Day parade, which was then a much smaller affair in Delhi’s National Stadium, was Pakistan’s Agriculture Minister Rana Abdul Hamid, but since then, India has reserved the honour only for Presidents, Prime Ministers and monarchs. The importance of Sheikh Mohammad bin Zayed’s visit can be gauged by the fact that he was considered over Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Bangladesh Premier Sheikh Hasina, and despite the fact that the Crown Prince had already made a state visit to India less than a year ago in February 2016.

“The Crown Prince is an enlightened ruler who is a strong advocate of modernity,” a government source said, explaining that the Prince’s acceptance of the invitation is “also a recognition of PM (Modi’s) global stature.”

The unspoken significance of the UAE visit is about “ending Pakistan’s primacy” in the UAE. The Pakistani Army traditionally trained UAE defence forces and several Pakistani military officials like former ISI chief Gen. Shuja Pasha have served in advisory capacities to the UAE. Last week, Pakistan’s outgoing Army Chief Gen. Raheel Sharif was appointed the chief of the 39-country Saudi Arabia-led Islamic Military Alliance.

However, MEA officials say “things are changing” and were dismissive of questions on UAE-Pakistan ties, especially with regard to counter-terror cooperation. In 2015, there was a strain over Pakistan’s decision not to send troops to fight in Yemen as part of the Saudi-led ‘intervention’ against Houthi fighters, a coalition that UAE was a part of, and officials say concerns over Pakistan’s support to terror groups is a source of rising concern in the UAE. “Dawood Ibrahim can no longer travel to the UAE,” a senior government source asserted.

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