UAE and In­dia should look be­yond trade, oil and ex­pats

The Pak Banker - - OPINION - N. Ja­nard­han

Ground re­al­i­ties sel­dom change in the pe­riod be­tween two vis­its of heads of state. But when the lag is as in­ex­pli­ca­bly long as three-and-a-half decades, as is the case with the In­dian prime min­is­ter's visit to the UAE, the trans­for­ma­tion of both coun­tries is bizarre. In 1981, when prime min­is­ter Indira Gandhi vis­ited here, the UAE's pop­u­la­tion was just a mil­lion, and In­dia's 685 mil­lion. To­day, the UAE's has nearly touched 10 mil­lion and In­dia's pop­u­la­tion has dou­bled.

The UAE's GDP was $49 bil­lion then and In­dia's $196 bil­lion. Both GDPs have recorded a 10-fold in­crease dur­ing the in­ter­ven­ing pe­riod. And im­por­tantly, UAE-In­dia trade was val­ued at about $180 mil­lion per an­num (in the 1970s), but is now around $60 bil­lion (af­ter reg­is­ter­ing $72 bil­lion in 2011-2012). As Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi vis­its the UAE, the rel­a­tive pros­per­ity of the two coun­tries is equally pro­lific. Home to the sec­ond high­est num­ber of mil­lion­aires in the Mid­dle East at 72,100, ap­prox­i­mately ev­ery 125th per­son in the UAE is re­port­edly a mil­lion­aire. While hun­dreds of mil­lions of In­di­ans are still poor, there are now about 250,000 dol­lar mil­lion­aires, which could dou­ble by 2018, even touch­ing a mil­lion by 2023.

Thus, the UAE and In­dia have si­mul­ta­ne­ously recorded rapid changes to trans­form them­selves from be­ing mere play­ers to be­com­ing ex­am­ples worth em­u­lat­ing on the global eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal fronts. Though both have taken dif­fer­ent paths to­wards in­de­pen­dence and de­vel­op­ment, their his­toric ex­pe­ri­ences di­rected the for­mu­la­tion of for­eign poli­cies with sev­eral com­mon­al­i­ties, the most im­por­tant be­ing con­cil­i­a­tion, con­sen­sus and co­op­er­a­tion. It is to the UAE lead­er­ship's credit that it recog­nised In­dia's im­por­tance as part of the Gulf Co­op­er­a­tion Coun­cil's ' Look East' pol­icy. This was ev­i­dent when the UAE's Vice-Pres­i­dent and Prime Min­is­ter and Ruler of Dubai His High­ness Shaikh Mo­hammed bin Rashid Al Mak­toum vis­ited In­dia, not once but twice - in 2007 and 2010.

How­ever, though In­dia has of­ten re­it­er­ated that the "Gulf re­gion is part of In­dia's nat­u­ral eco­nomic hin­ter­land," its UAE, Gulf and West Asia pol­icy has played sec­ond fid­dle in the quest to im­prove ties with the Western world. In a re­gion that is bound by tra­di­tion (which the Chi­nese have mas­tered), a re­cip­ro­cal prime min­is­te­rial visit should have been forth­com­ing ear­lier.

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