by Pramit Pal Chaudhuri,
In spring 2015, the Abu Dhabi royal family urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to consider a state visit to the United Arab Emirates. New Delhi was unenthusiastic. India’s economic stakes in the UAE were weighed against the Emiratis close relationship with Pakistan. Dubai’s status as a home-away-from-home for Dawood Ibrahim rankled.
Abu Dhabi indicated it was prepared to talk about counterterrorism, including Pakistan. New Delhi was pleasantly surprised to find the Emiratis were serious: the infamous days when it was one of three countries to recognise the Taliban regime were over.
Modi flew to the UAE in August that year. Crown prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed’s coming as Republic Day chief guest this year sealed the new Delhi-Abu Dhabi relationship.
There are several reasons why the UAE has suddenly discovered India.
Foremost is Abu Dhabi’s sense that its years of acquiescence to Saudi Arabian and Pakistani promotion of Sunni extremism is now threatening to engulf the entire region. In a speech to the UN last year, UAE foreign minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed warned of the dangers “organisations, most notably Daesh, Al Qaeda, Hezbollah” which “exploit religion for political purposes” posed to the region.
The UAE has quietly supported the creation of moderate Islamic institutions such as the Muslim Council of Elders, the Global Forum for Prompting Peace in Muslim Societies and the Sawab and Hedayah Centres. Last year, notes James Dorsey of the Middle East Institute in Singapore, the Emirati underwrote a clerics conference in Russia which, when defining true schools of Sunni thinking, pointedly excluded Saudi-backed Wahhabism, Salafists and Deobandi school.
King’s College Gulf expert, David B Rogers, goes as far as to say the UAE has become an advocate of its own brand of secularism, one in which “the decisions of ruling elites are informed and shaped, rather than mandated and sanctioned, by Islam”.
The UAE has positioned itself as a fourth force in political divisions that presently wrack the Sunni world. It has distanced itself from the Wahhabism promoted by Saudi Arabia. It strongly opposes the anti-monarchical conservativism of the Muslim Brotherhood. And keeps aloof from Turkey and Qatar, which have supported radical Salafi groups including, at times, the Islamic State. Read full in HindustanTimes