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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 22 June 2018

India to begin first ever UAE naval exercises off Abu Dhabi shores

Ahead of the second visit by India’s prime minister Narendra Modi to the UAE on Saturday, efforts are being made to put into action between 12 and 14 agreements between both countries

India to begin first ever UAE naval exercises off Abu Dhabi shores. Aron Sankar / AFP Photo
India to begin first ever UAE naval exercises off Abu Dhabi shores. Aron Sankar / AFP Photo

India will begin its first-ever naval exercises off the shores on Abu Dhabi next month, as the UAE and Indian prepare for a number of agreements to collaborate on defence, security, energy, space and in the coming years.

Ahead of the second visit by India’s prime minister Narendra Modi to the UAE on Saturday, efforts are being made to translate between 12 and 14 agreements between both countries into real action.

“It shows recognition that we have a shared interest in maritime security against piracy, in keeping the sea lanes open, in ensuring the freedom of navigation and perhaps also the recognition of what our forefathers knew: that our countries are neighbours separated only by water,” said Navdeep Suri, Indian ambassador to the UAE.

“So we’re trying today to revive that historical connection between our countries. The kind of conversations we are having in defence or security today would perhaps have been unimaginable a few years back and there’s a level of confidence in our leadership to say how we can learn from each other in countering violent extremism and radicalisation.”

India is home to 180 million Muslims. “[Some may ask] how can India make such a feeble contribution to Daesh, they have produced so few terrorists and how have the Muslim communities remained so integrated within the context of the pluralistic society that we have,” the ambassador said at the Emirates Diplomatic Academy on Wednesday.

“Similarly, here in the UAE with Hedayah and the Sawab Centre (anti-terrorism centres), there are things for us to try and emulate and for those conversations to happen, you need really strong and stable platforms.”

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In energy, the UAE agreed to establish a strategic petroleum reserve in India. “[India] is an energy-deficit country,” Mr Suri said. “We used to import 55 per cent of our energy, but today we have reached 79 per cent. So we have to transform from being a major buyer of oil from the UAE into something much more multidimensional.”

Space is another area of joint collaboration, with the former chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation set to join the advisory board of the UAE Space Agency. Mr Suri said: “When you look at India’s space programme with more than 200 satellites and the launch capacities we have been able to develop, it’s a partnership waiting to happen. The UAE has huge ambitions in this area, we have 50 years of experience. We have demonstrated the capacity to deliver some of the lowest-cost solutions in the space area and [we could] potentially train UAE space personnel.”

More investment will also go into India from the UAE in terms of infrastructure projects following the joint fund set up in 2016 with US$75 million planned to go towards India’s roads, airports, ports, railways and parks.

“Twenty-nine per cent of companies in Jebel Ali are Indian and there are high percentages in other free zones, but the missing link has been investment from the UAE in India,” he said. “People expected [the investment] to happen immediately, but we’ve had to clarify that it is investment, not aid, a loan nor a grant, and it needs financially viable projects.”

The embassy has been working with the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, DP World, Emaar and Mubadala to understand their areas of interest and what they view as opportunities and problems in India. The ambassador said he expects this trend will strengthen “very significantly” in the next year or two.

During his less than 20-hour visit to the UAE, Prime Minister Modi plans to take part in the launch of a Hindu temple in Abu Dhabi. “A very large tract of land was donated to the Indian community by Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed,” he said. “I am confident that once this temple is up, it will truly be a beacon, not only of Indian culture here but the UAE’s own spirit of tolerance that celebrates diversity and enables all communities the space to practice their religion, culture, identity and language.”