Oil storage deal gives new thrust to UAE-India strategic relationship

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Madhusudhana Rao S

Two leaders who are the centers of power in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are Shaikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Ruler of Dubai, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE, and Shaikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces.  

While the Dubai Ruler is credited with transforming a sleepy backward Emirate into a global city in a span of just three decades, the Abu Dhabi Crown Prince wields enormous political and economic power within the UAE and outside of it. Though his half brother Shaikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan is the President of the UAE, Shaikh Mohammed bin Zayed is the guiding spirit behind Abu Dhabi’s spectacular progress.

His power and influence can be gauged from the string of official positions he holds. Shaikh Mohammed bin Zayed is the Chairman of the Abu Dhabi Executive Council, the highest body responsible for planning and development of Abu Dhabi Emirate; a member of the Supreme Petroleum Council; Special Advisor to the UAE President Shaikh Khalifa; head of the Abu Dhabi Council for Economic Development (ADCED); head of the investment vehicle of the Government of Abu Dhabi, known as Mubadala Development Company; Director of the Emirate’s sovereign wealth fund Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, among others.

When Prime Minister Narendra Modi invited Shaikh Khalifa bin Zayed to be the chief guest at the Republic Day celebrations on January 26, it was a strategic move from political and economic point of view. In 2015, Modi visited the UAE, becoming the first Indian Prime Minister in 34 years to meet the Rulers of Emirates that are second home for over 2 million Indian expats.

To say he was given a royal treatment is to underestimate the outcome of his highly successful visit. During his talks with leaders of Dubai and Abu Dhabi, Modi had laid the foundation for a new relationship between the two countries which have been enjoying traditional ties since times immemorial. That was also the beginning of forging an agenda of common interests like fighting terrorism, investment, economic development, military ties, among others.

In a way, Modi has opened a window for India on Middle East in general and Arab Gulf States in particular by visiting the UAE and seeking its partnership in the country’s growth. The current visit of Shaikh Mohammed bin Zayed as the chief guest at the Republic Day is further consolidation of India-UAE ties.

Traditionally, a lot of importance is attached to bestow the Republic Day guest honour on a leader. A lot of thought too goes into the process of inviting the head of a government or state. After the BJP government came to power, the Abu Dhabi Crown Prince is the third leader to grace the Republic Day parade after Barack Obama of US and François Hollande of France. By inviting Shaikh Mohammed bin Zayed to the prestigious event in Indian calendar, Modi has given top priority to India’s ties with Gulf States after the US and Europe.

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The reason is not far to seek. Besides the large Indian expat population working in the UAE and remitting home billions every year, the UAE in general and Dubai and Abu Dhabi in particular are important trading partners. Moreover, Dubai is a favourite destination for people wanted in India. Pakistan enjoys considerable clout in the UAE and its rulers and many of its citizens have personal ties with the ruling classes of Pakistan. It’s also a home away from home for deposed Pak leaders. Until recently, there had been perceptible slant in the UAE relations with India vis-à-vis Pakistan. Now, the position is set to change since Shaikh Mohammed bin Zayed has come to India just not to watch his country’s contingent lead the ceremonial parade but with a host of deals which would seal the UAE-India strategic relationship. 

On Wednesday, the two countries signed 14 agreements, including one on strategic cooperation. Memoranda of Understanding (MoUs) include cooperation in defence, maritime, shipping, cyberspace, commerce, etc. The thrust of the preliminary pacts is to increase economic cooperation. The most significant one among these is setting up of a storage facility for Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (Adnoc) in India. This proposal, in the air for some time, has been given a shape now. The deal was signed between Indian Strategic Petroleum Reserves Ltd and Adnoc. According to an official statement, “This agreement aims to establish a framework for the storage of crude oil by Abu Dhabi National Oil Company in India and to further strengthen the strategic relationship between the two countries in the field of energy.”

At a joint press conference, Modi said he discussed trade, terrorism, Islamic radicalization as well as threats in the region with the Abu Dhabi Crown Prince. “We are working to connect the institutional investors in UAE with our National Investment and Infrastructure Fund,” Modi said, adding, “we also feel that our growing engagement in countering violence and extremism is necessary for securing our societies.”

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