UAE Ambassador dismisses reports on Dawood raids

UAE Ambassador to India Dr. Ahmed Al Banna.   | Photo Credit: V. Sudershan

UAE is committed to a new strategic relationship with India, which will be signed on January 25th says UAE Ambassador to India Dr. Ahmed Al Banna. In an interview to Diplomatic Editor Suhasini Haidar, he spoke about the upcoming visit of the UAE crown prince next week, also dismissing reports that there had been a crackdown on Dawood Ibrahim’s property ahead of the visit.

Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan is the first non-head of state/government to be the Chief Guest for Republic Day in fifty years, and had already visited India last year. Tell us how this visit came about?

We are honoured by the invitation to HH Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, deputy supreme Commander of the armed forces of the UAE. It is true that no other non-head of state has come as Chief Guest to Republic Day in all this time. It shows the strength and importance of bilateral relations, and the new track that the relationship has taken since the visit of PM Modi to UAE in 2015 and His Highness’s trip to India in 2016. That has geared us towards a more strategic relationship. The traditional trade relationship and exchange of visits and a normal relationship has always been there, but these visits have put us on a different track.

The first India-UAE Strategic Dialogue is expected on January 20th. What is it likely to include?

The draft of the Strategic cooperation agreements is almost ready and has been approved, which will be signed on the 25th of January and the first meeting of the Dialogue committee will be on the 20th ahead of the bilateral visit. It will take our relationship to new fields like renewable energy, aviation, IT, and also to create a platform for businessmen in both countries to travel and facilitate their relationship. Trade, Oil and Gas have always been there, now we look to new areas of cooperation including the exchange of information to counter terrorism, and battle fanatical groups.

In terms of investment, UAE has announced the setting up of an infrastructure fund, which had been announced during the Crown Prince’s visit to Delhi, with a figure of $75 billion. Is there a timeline for when this investment is likely to come in, and where precisely will it be spent?

There have been several meetings in reference to this, and the NIIF CEO was in Abu Dhabi about a month ago. The $75 billion is being talked about over a period of 10 years, but we are awaiting a response from the Indian side for the terms and rules which would be applied before the creation of this fund, and where it would be used. Mainly we are looking at infrastructure like roads, highways, logistics centres, and railroads.

But the fund has not yet been set up then, only the MoU signed…

That’s right.

There was also a commitment to increase trade by 60% in 5 years. Isn’t that too ambitious, given that in actual terms, trade has declined, and in addition to all else, gold trade, that accounts for 26% of the trade has dropped in the light of import duties imposed on both sides?

Well, if you look 30 years back, trade figures between India and the UAE was about $128 million. Today we are speaking of $50 billion. While it is true that this figure has decreased compared to $60 billion in 2013-2014, it has not decreased in quantity, only in value. One of the big reasons for this for was the fall in oil prices. Customs duties have not increased in the UAE, they are being brought in line with the other GCC countries, so we can achieve a custom union.

Will some of the $ 80 billion trading relationship UAE have with China be moved to India, so product sales for goods made in India could be increased? Will there be a Free Trade Agreement for this?

By law, the UAE must negotiate an FTA through the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). We are making efforts and working closely with India to revitalise the India-GCC talks on an FTA.

To turn to the cooperation in countering terrorism. How will this be enhanced?

There have already been marine joint exercises, and we have an MoU on the exchange of information, and counter terror cooperation. In counter-terrorism, the UAE is an Arab coalition country that leads along with Saudi Arabia on attacking terror groups and illegal organisations in the region, and we work very closely with Indian authorities on this, even to minimise the movement of some of the cells and the sleeping cells of those organisations.

Are you referring to arrests made recently on ISIS/D’aesh operatives?

D’aesh is one of the groups, but there are others that have been pronounced as terror groups by the United Nations and we are working very closely in order to eliminate their operations.

One of the major stumbling blocks to India-UAE cooperation is in this field. India holds that two of the groups that are banned by the UN for example (LeT and JeM) are in Pakistan, and plan attacks on India from Pakistan. However, UAE has very close business and political links with Pakistan. UAE army is trained by the Pakistani army, and ISI chiefs have been security advisors in Abu Dhabi. Can India and UAE get past this stumbling block?

I think we are beyond that stage. Our relationship with India is special, and is not impacted by our relationship with any other country. As I said, we have reached a stage where now a strategic relationship with India has been developed, and we are working very closely with Indian authorities against those illegal organisations I mentioned.

But the relations with Pakistan do have an impact on the India-UAE relations. In the case of Dawood Ibrahim, the man India holds responsible for the 1993 Mumbai bombings, he is understood to live in Pakistan but owns property and assets in the UAE…

I’m not quite sure about what he owns. There are international agreements and a judicial system, and we follow the international rules. We do collaborate with India on exchanging information and respect our duties with all countries we have good relations with.

How would you react specifically to reports that UAE officials have conducted raids and confiscated assets worth 15,000 crore rupees belonging to Dawood Ibrahim and his associates?

I don’t know anything about that.

Raids of such a large proportion would not have gone unreported or unnoticed in the UAE, surely. Are you then denying the reports?

I don’t know really. I heard about the reports, but with all respect to the media (that reported the story), I have no information about such raids taking place. As I said, if there were raids, they would be within our legal system.

What is Dawood Ibrahim’s legal status in the UAE now? Years ago he was seen quite regularly attending cricket matches or appearing at weddings, owning property there. This is an emotive issue in India.

I don’t know, I don’t follow his news.

Afghan officials have implicated Pakistan for supporting the Taliban/Haqqani group fighters responsible for the attack in Kandahar last week in which 5 UAE diplomats were among 11 killed. Will UAE now join India and Afghanistan in demanding that Pakistan take action against them, and shut down safe havens for terror groups on its soil?

We don’t want to jump any conclusion. The inquiry is on and will wait for the outcome of the report. And who will be responsible, will be implicated. As you know, Our Crown Prince, Sheikh Mohammed bin has already said that, “Abhorrent acts of terror conducted by forces of evil and darkness won’t deter us from walking the path of giving and charity.”

Lets turn to India’s role in the Gulf region. Given the large population of Indians who live and work here- more than 8 million- does the UAE believe India can play a bigger role here politically, in the peace process and the fight against ISIS?

Certainly we do. We do have discussions on international and regional matters regularly.

I ask because India is one of the few countries which has good relations with all the major players: UAE and Saudi Arabia, Iran and Israel.

Yes. We welcome any efforts towards the peaceful solutions in accordance with the UNSC in any issues that we face, be it the Palestinian issue or others. We appreciate the support and the advice given by the Indian side on international issues.

Yet, we see UAE as a part of the Organisation for Islamic Cooperation that has taken a very stand against India on Kashmir, for example. In a statement 3 months ago the OIC went as far as to accuse Indian forces of “atrocities”, disregarding India’s concerns.

UAE is one member of the OIC, and decisions that are taken are sometimes beyond the control of any one organisation. We do work closely on this issue, and the UAE offers any help in resolving the issues India and its region faces. We hope we can add value to resolutions in this part of the world, just as we welcome India’s help in resolving issues in our region.

Is ISIS/D’aesh now on the decline, and do you see a military role for India in keeping the peace in the region, as the US had suggested two years ago?

D’aesh has lost power in Syria and Iraq due to the fierce attack by the international coalition led by the USA, which the UAE is a part of. We would of course welcome any help or participation from India to fight those fanatics and to create a peaceful world where we eliminate those extremists who use religion as a means to their political individual gains. D’aesh is like a cancerous disease and it needs to be eliminated.

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Printable version | May 5, 2021 10:29:41 PM |

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