New Delhi, June 29: India will hold the first strategic dialogue with the United Arab Emirates tomorrow between foreign minister Yashwant Sinha and Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, the UAE’s chief of defence forces and de facto national security adviser.
The talks are likely to have far-reaching implications in Delhi’s immediate neighbourhood and in the Gulf.
The UAE has been seen as close to Pakistan and gained notoriety in India as Dubai — one of the seven emirates — harboured Indian criminals, particularly Mumbai underworld don Dawood Ibrahim and his associates.
But over the past few months there has been closer cooperation between the UAE and India, resulting in the deportation of several men from Dubai. The UAE, on its part, has had misgivings about the growing ties between India and Iran.
Senior foreign ministry officials said it was no longer a “zero-sum game” and India could not afford to look at its relations with key countries in the Gulf through the Pakistani prism.
The strategic dialogue will give the two sides an opportunity to discuss and identify areas of mutual concern and interest and lay the groundwork for an improved, stronger and broad-based bilateral relations. It will also provide a chance to put in place a structure that will allow regular interactions at the political level for a meaningful relationship in future.
Sheikh Mohammed is scheduled to call on Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and hold meetings with deputy Prime Minister .K. Advani, other Indian leaders and key government officials. Deeper and stronger defence cooperation will be actively looked into during the visit.
The fact that two other senior members of the royal family — Sheikh Abdullah, the information minister, and Sheikh Hamad, the head of economic cooperation — are part of the high-level delegation indicates Sheikh Mohammed’s high position in the UAE pecking order.
He also heads the Dolphin energy project that brings gas from Qatar to the UAE. There have been proposals to extend the gas pipeline to other countries, particularly India. Moreover, Sheikh Mohammed is interested in the disinvestment taking place in the Indian petroleum sector.
Since developing strong business ties is also an important component of his visit, he will interact with some of India’s leading businessmen, including Anil Ambani of Reliance and Wipro’s Azim Premji. A joint CII-Ficci delegation will meet him over the next two days.
With more than a million Indian expatriates working in the emirates and a market for Indian exports worth more than $3 billion, the UAE is an important to India. It also has an oil reserve of more than 98 billion barrels — the third largest producer of petroleum — and is an important member of the Organisation of Islamic Countries.