In another signal to Pakistan, India Sunday said Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan will be the chief guest at the 2017 Republic Day parade. The United Arab Emirates is considered one of Pakistan’s close allies, but has been supportive of India’s position on terrorism in the last couple of years.
This will be the second visit by the Crown Prince within a year — he came to India on a three-day state visit, along with three brothers and top Cabinet ministers, in February this year. He will be the first leader from the Gulf at the parade since 2006 when Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud was the chief guest.
An invitation to be the Republic Day chief guest is highly symbolic from the Indian government’s perspective. New Delhi has been weaving strategy with hospitality to decide its chief guest for the Republic Day. The choice of chief guest every year is dictated by a number of reasons — strategic and diplomatic, business interest and international geopolitics.
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While French President Francois Hollande was the chief guest this year, it was US President Barack Obama in 2015.
Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Vikas Swarup said, “We hope to welcome a dear friend of India, HH Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, as Republic Day 2017 Chief Guest.”
In a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Mohamed bin Zayed expressed “thanks for the kind invitation to attend India’s Republic Day celebrations”.
“Our strong relations are deeply rooted in history. Our strategic cooperation has increased, driven by our mutual aspirations to develop it,” the Crown Prince said.
Modi tweeted, “The coming of HH Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan will give a very strong boost to the vibrant India-UAE relations. Thank you for very kindly agreeing to grace the 2017 Republic Day celebration as the chief guest.”
While the relationship between India and the UAE has largely been economic and commercial in nature, things changed in the last year or so — and it took a political and strategic colour as both countries shared common views on terrorism.
During Modi’s visit in August 2015, the two sides came out with a joint statement which said, “The two nations reject extremism and any link between religion and terrorism. They condemn efforts, including by states, to use religion to justify, support and sponsor terrorism against other countries. They also deplore efforts by countries to give religious and sectarian colour to political issues and disputes, including in West and South Asia, and use terrorism to pursue their aims.” From New Delhi’s perspective, this was an oblique reference to Pakistan, and with the UAE signing, it was considered a major step.
When Al Nahyan, who is also the Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE armed forces, visits India next year, the two sides are expected to give boost to bilateral ties in areas of security and defence.