The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Delhi dithers on Kalam visit

New Delhi, Dec. 20: President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam’s proposed visit to the United Arab Emirates early next year appears to have put the foreign ministry in a spot.

Peeved as it is with the “surreptitious” release of Bombay-blasts accused Anees Ibrahim from Dubai a few days ago, South Block is aware what a visit by the President at this juncture would mean. At the same time, it also realises that a high-level visit to Abu Dhabi is long overdue and stalling it further can strain the delicately-balanced relationship between the two countries.

The UAE has already extended an invitation to the President to visit the country. However, going by indications here, Delhi is in no mood to confirm the dates of the visit.

South Block admitted that UAE authorities have extended an invitation for a presidential visit to the country and, though India has accepted it, no dates have so far been given.

Earlier indications suggested that Kalam might go to the Gulf country in January. However, foreign ministry officials made it clear that the visit was “highly unlikely” to take place so soon.

“Various sets of dates are now being looked into in consultation with Rashtrapati Bhavan, but no decision on the proposed visit has yet been taken,” said a senior official of the ministry.

There are also indications that the President has expressed his desire to first tour the country before going on any state visit. This may well suit the stand Delhi wants to adopt now in dealing with the UAE.

The problem afflicting South Block is two-fold. If Kalam does go ahead with the visit to the UAE next month, what will be its repercussion in India' Will it be seen as a goodwill visit or will the Vajpayee government’s detractors see it as yet another sign of the ruling party’s weakness'

On the other hand, if Delhi calls off the visit now, Abu Dhabi may see it as an insult and the Centre is not sure as to what extent it will damage bilateral relations.

Though details of what led to Anees’ release are yet to be known, officials here say it was, perhaps, a combination of two or three factors. Anees’ elder brother, Dawood Ibrahim, wields a lot of clout in Dubai. His position there has been further strengthened by Pakistan, which does not want to miss out on any opportunity to embarrass India.

The fear of jeopardising its relationship with Pakistan by handing over Anees to Delhi may also have been an important deterrent.

However, the fiasco has also raised questions about the structure of authority in the UAE — a grouping of seven emirates — and the extent of independence an emirate like Dubai enjoys. After Delhi was informed about Anees’ detention in Dubai, the UAE authorities had promised that he would be extradited to India and asked South Block to prepare his extradition papers.

A section in the foreign ministry argues that Anees’ release embarrassed Abu Dhabi as much as Delhi and thus it may not be proper to hold the rulers in Abu Dhabi responsible for what Dubai has done.

India may still not rush into confirming the dates of the President’s visit to the UAE. However, by not calling it off entirely, it has the choice of engaging with Abu Dhabi at the highest political level and hoping that in future the UAE will keep Indian sensitivities in mind.

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