Even though the interpreter was missing at their joint appearance in Delhi’s Hyderabad House, there was no mistaking the rapport between the United Arab Emirates Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi . The two leaders have met three times in the last 18 months, each meeting more full of warmth than the previous one. That the UAE Crown Prince, who is also the Deputy Supreme Commander of the Emirati armed forces, was invited as Chief Guest at the Republic Day parade, even though he is not a head of government or state, indicates the importance India invests in him and in ties with the Gulf country. India’s interest in the UAE rests on several pillars: trade ties of about $50 billion, energy and oil supplies from the world’s fifth largest exporter, the welfare of 2.6 million Indians who remit billions of dollars home annually, and defence and security. While bilateral ties have been robust for decades, the defence and security partnership is clearly the new driver for ties between the two governments; the signing of the strategic partnership agreement was the highlight of the UAE leader’s visit. The contours of this partnership are now being set: joint military exercises, joint manufacturing and purchase of equipment and spare parts from India, as well as cooperation on fighting terror. The joint statement also contained strong words on “state-sponsored terror”, that the government believes is an indication that the UAE shares India’s frustration on cross-border terrorism from Pakistan, especially in the wake of the bomb blast in Kandahar on January 10, in which five UAE officials were among the victims.
Strong words are no substitute for action, however, and the strategic partnership that India envisions with the UAE must be based on clarity and concrete measures. This should include a crackdown on the shadowy businesses owned by Dawood Ibrahim as well as more steps to curb terror financing of the Taliban and groups in Pakistan and Afghanistan; such money is often routed through expatriate remittances from the UAE. India’s hopes of investment from the Abu Dhabi sovereign wealth fund, one of the world’s largest at $500 billion, will not be realised until New Delhi steps up efficiency at its end. That it took more than a year for the government to fully set up the National Investment and Infrastructure Fund mechanism for the UAE funds is a case in point. The delay resulted in the memorandum of understanding for investment of a possible $75 billion over 10 years falling through. Personalised leader-to-leader bilateral diplomacy is a great conversation-starter, but not sufficient to energise ties.