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India begins looking west

New Delhi is raising its stakes in the UAE to cultivate mutual relationship

Author Mahendra Ved
began to “Look East” in the 1990s, pursuing a policy now recalibrated as “Act East”. The East responded. 
In a similar mutual reassessment, it has begun to consolidate its “Look West”, towards the Gulf region. 
Like everyone else, India is adding to its ancient ties geopolitical compulsions and the changing global scenario as the West (read Brexit, Donald Trump’s America) is seeking to move away. 
Walking through diplomatic minefields, India had trained Saddam Husain’s air force in Iraq, which annoyed the Americans, and it did business with the Ayatollahs’ Iran. 
Over the recent years, it has developed enormous stakes in the Gulf region, despite the latter’s mediaeval forms of tribal, ethnic and sectarian rivalries, and royal princes’ preoccupation with falcons and hunting of houbara bustards.
The Gulf region is India’s largest trade and investment partner, a primary source of oil and gas imports, and home to its eight million workers. Expatriates run the services there and the better ones have turned investors. 
Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed Zayed Al Nahyan was the chief guest at the 68th Republic Day last month, heading a large Keffiyeh-crowned entourage. This indicates India’s growing ties with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and, by extension, the Gulf region as a whole. 
Symbolically, Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building in Dubai, was lit up in the colours of the Indian national flag for two days as part of India’s celebration.
The crown prince was the second Arab leader to attend the Republic Day celebration after Saudi King Abdullah Abdulaziz al-Saud in 2006. 
India eyes financial investments worth US$60 billion (RM264 billion) and energy security from the region in infrastructure and a myriad sector. As Emirates and Etihad fly in and out of India, tiny Qatar has just been invited to form or invest in an airline. 
Indeed, the security and stability of the Indian subcontinent as a whole and the Gulf region are interlinked. 
Laws in most Gulf countries make naturalisation and citizenship virtually impossible and require working with temporary visas. In the UAE, over 2.8 million Indians — Hindus, Muslims and Christians — send US$14 billion home annually, and live in harmony with a million Pakistanis and 1.2 million Bangladeshis. Together, they form a third of the UAE’s population. 
The 1970s phenomenon of young Maoists of India’s Kerala state chucking the Red Book and heading for the Gulf was unique. 
They are now facing problems, what with the free-fall in crude prices, job cuts and prospects of an end to tax-free living, but are trudging on. The Gulf remains an attractive destination. 
Trading since the 7th century, the Indians have been part of the Gulf scene, long before and since the oil boom, to mutual benefit. The world’s only non-Muslim Sheikh is an Omani Indian businessman, whose firm has thrived there for 146 years. 
Breaking protocol, Prime Minister Narendra Modi gave Al Nahyan a warm hug at the tarmac. Besides signalling the growing proximity, Modi sought to reiterate a point with those Arabs who have willy-nilly abetted terrorism. 
He also sought to consolidate on his August 2015 UAE visit, when the two countries had condemned efforts, including by states, to use religion to justify, support and sponsor terrorism against other countries, or to use terrorism as instrument of state policy. 
For long, the Gulf meant mainly oil and jobs for the Indians. After long years of hesitation, there is evidence of mutual reassessment. 

Read on Next Page : Why India is wooing UAE?
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