Indian defence minister Manohar Parrikar speaking at the air force base in Pathankot on January 5, 2016. Mr Parrikar will be in the UAE for a two-day visit on May 17, 2016 as the two countries seek to forge closer security and trade ties. Narinder Nanu/AFP Photo
Indian defence minister Manohar Parrikar speaking at the air force base in Pathankot on January 5, 2016. Mr Parrikar will be in the UAE for a two-day visit on May 17, 2016 as the two countries seek toShow more

UAE and India set to forge closer trade and military ties



NEW DELHI // India’s defence minister, Manohar Parrikar, will arrive in the UAE on Wednesday for a two-day visit, aiming to bolster security ties and explore the potential of trade in military equipment.

Mr Parrikar’s trip marks the first-ever bilateral visit by an Indian defence minister to the UAE. It is a sign, analysts say, of how the relationship between the two countries has strengthened since prime minister Narendra Modi took power two years ago.

The UAE extended a formal invitation to Mr Parrikar when Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, visited India in February.

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Both countries are looking to expand cooperation in defence and security affairs beyond counter-terrorism operations, said Sushant K Singh, a New Delhi-based defence analyst and a retired Indian Army lieutenant colonel.

Among the top priorities on Mr Parrikar’s agenda is to ensure the militaries of India and the UAE work well together.

“This is driven by the recent Indian experience of retrieving expat Indians from the Middle East, where the Indian military had to move in,” Mr Singh said. “It is better for the military systems in these countries to be familiar with the Indians, so that such humanitarian and disaster relief operations, if they’re required in the future, can run smoothly.”

As an example, he cited the operation last April, called Raahat, in which India evacuated more than 4,600 of its citizens from Yemen by air as well as sea, as war raged between Houthi militants and government forces supported by UAE troops.

Mr Parrikar will tour industrial and military installations in the UAE during his visit. With his counterparts, he will discuss military logistics and cooperation in hydrographic studies, a spokesperson for India’s defence ministry said. Mr Parrikar will also hold talks on whether the UAE can be a potential customer for Indian-made defence equipment, and what equipment the UAE’s military needs.

These talks, however, will be in the earliest stages. Mr Singh called this a preliminary, exploratory step.

“It’s too early to identify any equipment that might be bought or sold, at this point,” he said. India will also need to scale up its defence production capacities before it can consider selling significant volumes of equipment to the UAE.

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Mr Modi’s enthusiasm for closer relations with the UAE markedly improved the quality of ties, Mr Singh noted.

The earlier government, the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA), also pursued a good working relationship with the UAE, exemplified by the UAE’s deportation of “a couple of wanted terrorists to India during that period”.

But Mr Modi’s energies in this direction have been even greater.

“The attempt is to delink India from being seen from the prism of Pakistan,” he said. “Notwithstanding the UAE’s relationship with Pakistan, it must engage India independently and on its own terms.”

As part of Mr Parrikar's trip, three Indian warships – INS Delhi, INS Tarkash and INS Deepak – have already anchored at Dubai. These ships will conduct joint exercises with the UAE's navy over the next three days.

Following his visit to the UAE, Mr Parrikar will go to Oman for three days before returning to New Delhi.

ssubramanian@thenational.ae

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