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 defense and security. While bilateral ties have been robust for decades, the defense 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.