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UAE ignores Kashmir's plight to preserve 'special relationship' with India's Hindu nationalist government Open in fullscreen

Austin Bodetti

UAE ignores Kashmir's plight to preserve 'special relationship' with India's Hindu nationalist government

Modi has thanked Abu Dhabi's crown prince for backing India's manoeuvres in Kashmir [Getty]

Date of publication: 30 August, 2019

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Just as India has ignored the UAE's persecution of dissidents, the UAE may decide to overlook Indian actions in Kashmir for the sake of bilateralism.
As India wrestles with the growing fallout from its decision to revoke the autonomy of Kashmir, a restive, Muslim-majority region also claimed by Pakistan, a little-known ally has come to the South Asian country's defence: the United Arab Emirates.

Indian officials opted to override Article 370 of the Indian Constitution on August 5, ending Kashmir's special status which sparked protests worldwide condemning India's move.

The Emirati Ambassador to India, however, expressed support for India's controversial actions in Kashmir.

"We expect that the changes would improve social justice and security and confidence of the people in the local governance and will encourage further stability and peace," remarked Ahmad al-Banna, the UAE's ambassador in India, adding that the UAE viewed the Indian withdrawal of Kashmir's autonomy as part of the South Asian country's internal affairs.

During an August visit to the UAE, Indian President Narendra Modi thanked Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the UAE's most powerful official, for backing India's recent manoeuvres in Kashmir.

These measures include deploying tens of thousands of soldiers, detaining community leaders and politicians, and severing telephone lines.

Given that the United States, one of India's closest allies, has voiced concern about "reports of detentions," the UAE's silence on what many see as an international crisis seems striking.

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Despite the renewed attention on Emirati-Indian relations, ties between India and the UAE have been developing for some time.

During a 2017 visit to India, Mohammed bin Zayed expressed his hope for a "comprehensive strategic partnership for the twenty-first century."

The countries' intertwined national interests underpin this burgeoning geopolitical relationship.

Dr Aftab Kamal Pasha, a professor at the Center for West Asian Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University, described the basis of India and the UAE's alliance as "historical ties, Indian immigrants' large presence in the UAE, their remittances to India, security, welfare, growing trade, investments, Indian-Pakistani tensions, sanctions on Iran, energy security, Indian companies' role in free trade zones, building infrastructure, India's big market, and tourism."

The petroleum industry has fuelled much of India and the UAE's economic partnership. The Abu Dhabi National Oil Company and Indian Oil Corporation inked an agreement just this April.

In the last few years, India has paid much attention to improving bilateral ties with the UAE

"The economic ties between India and the UAE are deep and growing," said Dr Dhananjay Tripathi, an assistant professor of international relations at South Asian University.

"India is the largest trading partner of the UAE, and, for India, the UAE is the third-largest trading partner after China and the US. Both countries are interested in enhancing this trade partnership."

The collaboration between India and the UAE extends well beyond economic policy. In one of the more bizarre examples, the Indian newspaper Business Standard claimed that Modi sent the Indian Coast Guard to intercept a fugitive Emirati princess fleeing the UAE in a yacht – though the Indian Foreign Ministry disputed the story.

In any case, Pasha noted that India and the UAE's cooperation has often included "counterterrorism, intelligence sharing, maritime cooperation, cyber security, nuclear and space cooperation, water security, and food security."

Just last year, Modi and Mohammed bin Zayed concluded fourteen memoranda of understanding that outlined plans to collaborate on the defence industry and security policy.

"In the last few years, India has paid much attention to improving bilateral ties with the UAE," said Tripathi.

"There are strategic collaborations between the two sides. Both are willing to work more on cybersecurity and other conventional and non-conventional security issues."

Modi and Mohammed bin Zayed's frequent visits to one another's countries underscores how the two have grown closer.

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During Modi's latest trip to the UAE, the country awarded him the Order of Zayed, its highest civilian honour.

The UAE tends to give this award to only its most important allies, such as Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki and Saudi King Salman.

"The UAE has concluded that India – alongside its partners – is capable of causing destabilising activities detrimental to its interests, and India secretly believes that the UAE is a client state of the US increasingly dependent on Israel for growing threats to its security," observed Pasha.

Though current events in Kashmir have fed outrage in much of the Muslim world, the UAE has likely chosen to prioritise protecting its national interests and its ties to India over advocating on behalf of Kashmiris.

The UAE and the regional powers of the Persian Gulf have used a similar approach in China, whose detention of a million Muslims since 2018 has caused little outcry in the Gulf.

Emirati officials understand that, just as India has ignored the UAE's persecution of dissidents, the UAE may decide to overlook Indian actions in Kashmir for the sake of bilateralism

Saudi Arabia, and other countries in the region, the UAE has no appetite for interfering with the domestic policies of its economic partners, China and India among them. 

"There is an international consensus that revocation of Article 370 is an internal matter of India," argued Tripathi.

"Article 370 was not a bilateral treaty. It was an Indian prerogative to change domestic legislation. The UAE's position is concurrent with the international community's."

Emirati officials understand that, just as India has ignored the UAE's persecution of dissidents, the UAE may decide to overlook Indian actions in Kashmir for the sake of bilateralism.

"India's increasing economic growth, military and nuclear weapons capabilities, and space programme have impressed the crown prince of Abu Dhabi," Pasha told The New Arab.

"For its part, the UAE's support to India on Jammu and Kashmir is tactical."


Austin Bodetti studies the intersection of Islam, culture, and politics in Africa and Asia. He has conducted fieldwork in Bosnia, Indonesia, Iraq, Myanmar, Nicaragua, Oman, South Sudan, Thailand, and Uganda. His research has appeared in The Daily Beast, USA Today, Vox, and Wired.

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