India among UAE’s best friends: Emirati envoy

Dr. Ahmed Al-Banna, the Emirati envoy to New Delhi. (AN photo)
Updated 08 February 2018

India among UAE’s best friends: Emirati envoy

DUBAI: India and the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi are among the best friends of the UAE, the Emirati envoy to New Delhi, Dr. Ahmed Al-Banna, told Arab News.

Bilateral relations have reached a new level since Modi’s visit to the UAE in August 2015, Al-Banna said.

During his visit to the UAE on Feb. 10-12, Modi will deliver the keynote address at the Sixth World Government Summit, and interact with non-resident Indians at the Opera House in Dubai.

“The traditional relationship between the UAE and India has always been there in terms of trade, oil, gas, export and re-export,” said Al-Banna.

But since Modi’s 2015 visit and that of Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed in 2016, “a new track of strategic relationship has developed, and new sectors have been explored,” added Al-Banna, who will accompany Modi during his upcoming visit.

“We have three top-level committees with India. There’s a joint committee headed by (UAE Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation) Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed and (Indian Minister of External Affairs) Sushma Swaraj,” said Al-Banna.

“Then we have the strategic dialogue committee, which was formed during the last visit of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed (to India) in January 2017. This committee is headed by UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Dr. Anwar Gargash and India’s Minister of State for External Affairs M.J. Akbar,” Al-Banna added.

“Then we have the special investment task force, headed by His Highness Sheikh Hamed bin Zayed, president of the crown prince’s office in Abu Dhabi and chairman of the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority (ADIA), and India’s Minister of Commerce Suresh Prabhu. This shows you the importance of the relationship.”

India is the UAE’s leading trade partner, with bilateral trade at about $53 billion, said Al-Banna.

Bilateral relations have acquired tremendous strategic significance, and India and the UAE are cooperating in the fields of defense and aerospace technology, he added.

They are also working closely together on information technology and related sectors, he said.

“Lately, there has also been concentration on what we call soft power, cultural diplomacy and interaction on many cultural levels such as art exhibitions, traditional dance troupes etc.,” he added.

The UAE has invested about $10 billion in India, of which $4 billion is foreign direct investment (FDI), he said.

“We’ve created a special fund along with the Finance Ministry, the National Infrastructure Investment Fund (NIIF), with a commitment from the UAE of about $75 billion over the next 10 years to support infrastructure projects in India,” he said.

Of that $75 billion, $1 billion was transferred to the NIIF nearly a month ago, Al-Banna added.

“During the past year, there has been an extra $1 billion investment in India from different UAE institutions and companies,” he said.

“In 2018, we’re likely to witness another $1.5 billion investment from the UAE in India.”

Al-Banna applauded the contributions of UAE-based Indian expats who are helping the two countries progress.

“There are more than 2.8 million Indians living in the UAE,” he said. “These people have contributed to the growth of the UAE on many different levels. They remit more than $13.4 billion a year to their families in India.”

He said his team has developed a plan “to reach out to different levels of the Indian population to create awareness that the UAE can offer many different opportunities.”

He added: “The UAE isn’t only a land of opportunities where people can go and work. It’s also a tourist destination, a major hub and a growing industrial sector.”

The UAE is culturally rich, safe, and has instilled a sense of comfort among people, he said.

“All nationalities living in the UAE, including Indians, consider the country their home,” he added.

“We’re trying, through many different means, to explain what the UAE is all about. Seeing is believing.”

Medical tourism is another important part of Indo-UAE relations, he said, adding: “We’re working very closely on medical tourism from India to the UAE in some specialized hospitals for treatments. We also receive a lot of UAE patients who are treated in many different hospitals in India.”

Al-Banna highlighted the campaign launched by the UAE to help Yemenis injured in the ongoing war in their country.

As a result of that effort, 1,700 Yemenis have been brought to India to get medical attention.

“We brought them to India for treatment, and they’ve been placed in many different hospitals under the supervision and support of the UAE government,” he said.


Can Damascus-Ankara face off in Syria flare up?

Updated 25 min 13 sec ago

Can Damascus-Ankara face off in Syria flare up?

  • An all-out conflict between Syrian regime forces and Turkey is unlikely

BEIRUT: A week-old Turkish invasion of northeast Syria combined with a US withdrawal have redrawn the lines and left Russian-backed Syrian regime troops and Ankara’s forces standing face-to-face.

Experts argue that an all-out conflict between Syrian regime forces and Turkey is unlikely but they do not rule out sporadic clashes.

On Oct. 9, the Turkish army and its Syrian proxies launched a broad offensive against Kurdish forces controlling swathes of northeastern Syria.

The move against the People’s Protection Units (YPG), a militia Ankara considers a terrorist group, came after US troops who were deployed along the border as a buffer between the two enemies pulled back.

Turkey and its proxies — mostly Arab and Turkmen former rebels defeated by regime forces earlier in Syria’s eight-year-old conflict — have already conquered territory along 120 km of the border.

In some areas, they have moved some 30 km deep into Syria territory, prompting the Kurds to turn for help to the regime in Damascus.

Government troops responded and rushed north as soon as US troops withdrew from some of their positions, including the strategic city of Manbij.

The Syrian regime’s main backer Russia swiftly sent its own forces to patrol the new contact line between regime forces and the former fighters.

“It is mostly rebel groups linked to Ankara who are on the front lines, Turkish troops are mostly deployed along the border,” the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The intense ballet of military deployments is redrawing the map of territorial control in a region previously held by the US-backed and Kurdish-led Syrian Defense Forces.

“There’s a new map. And it’s the regime sweeping almost everything, Turkey is left with a few crumbs along the border,” said Thomas Pierret, from the French National Center for Scientific Research.

Turkey insists it will not stop the offensive until it meets its declared goals of creating a buffer zone all along the border, but it now has limited room for maneuver in the face of the regime surge.

Russia and Iran, both Damascus allies, “will act as intermediaries to ensure everybody stays on the patch they have been allocated,” said geographer and Syria expert Fabrice Balanche.

He said incidents should not be ruled out “due to the unclear nature of the territorial boundaries and the presence on the Turkish side of uncontrollable elements.”

Two Syrian soldiers were killed near Ain Issa in artillery fire from Turkish proxies Tuesday, the Observatory said.

“There could be limited clashes ... but no major battles,” Pierret said. “The Syrian army cannot take on Turkey ... The Turkish army is much better equipped.”

“It isn’t hard to imagine how areas retaken by the regime could be used as a staging ground for YPG guerrilla operations,” he said.

The Kurdish force could be “reinvented as an anti-Turkey force” at Damascus and Moscow’s orders. “It’s a very credible scenario and could give Russia new leverage against Turkey.”

Moscow is keen to avert any escalation, analysts say.

“Russia is working overtime to prevent any type of large scale conflict between Assad’s forces and Turkey and its proxies,” said Nick Heras from the Center for New American Security.

Turkey together with Russia and Iran launched the so-called Astana process which provides a framework for peace talks on Syria.

To win support for its invasion, Turkey will need to make concessions over the Idlib region in Syria’s northwest, Balanche predicted.

“The Russians finally agreed to this Turkish intervention in the north, in exchange for Idlib,” he said, referring to the last opposition bastion in Syria, a region where Ankara has some clout but which Damascus wants to retake.

The strategic relationship between Ankara and Moscow goes far beyond the Syrian conflict. NATO member Turkey has ignored US warnings and acquired Russia’s state-of-the-art S-400 missile defense system.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is expected in Moscow on Thursday for talks with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin.

Putin’s office said a prior phone call between the two leaders had emphasized “the need to prevent confrontations between units of the Turkish army and Syrian armed forces.”