Tuesday, 15 September 2009

UAE – a Weapons Exporter to China?

The Indian authorities recently detained a United Arab Emirates (UAE) Air Force transport plane in Calcutta. It seems the manifest did not disclose the plane's cargo included weapons.
The diplomatic handling of the incident exposes the different paths taken by India and Pakistan since independence in 1947.
The Indian government chose to go 'public' with the information pertaining to the plane. A spokesman for the Indian Ministry of Defence issued an official statement and simultaneously cancelled the onward clearance of the plane.
There is nothing unusual in the Indian behaviour. It is civilized, transparent and displays respect for the rule of law.
Sheikh Zayed (1918 - 2004) - the Founder and Father of the United Arab Emirates
On the other hand, the UAE is embarrassed by the incident. Some segments within the UAE see the Indian detention of the air force crew and airplane as disrespectful. A diplomatic 'loss of face.'
The UAE will have liked to handle the matter quietly through backdoor diplomacy. Why would anyone want to publicize weapons sales to China?
Let's say a UAE government plane landed at Karachi airport with a cargo of 'illegal' weapons. One can speculate about the Pakistani government's handling of a similar situation.
It is unlikely the Pakistan government will have quarantined the plane or detained its ten man crew. It may have raised the matter quietly with the UAE government prior to letting the (untouched) plane depart.
Pakistan claims to have a 'special relationship' with both China and the UAE and will not jeopardize it over an infraction of this magnitude or nature.
The scenario reveals more about the differing paths taken by India and Pakistan and their foreign policy perceptions.
Pakistan's active courtship of the Arab world, specifically Saudi Arabia and the UAE, has been successful in building up a relationship of trust with the UAE. The shift towards the Islamic world is a necessary ingredient in the country's desire to differentiate itself from its larger neighbour.
Pakistan is caught squarely in the middle of a cultural tug of war between the Arab world and India. In other words, Pakistan is a battleground between a strict Arab version of Islam and an indigenous (softer) version of the religion.
Pakistan has limited leverage with the UAE, other than the human capital and possibly military expertise so its desire (and ability) to act aggressively is limited.
India is a regional power. Consequently, its foreign policy establishment adopts a somewhat bureaucratic and rigid approach to implementing policy.
India does itself no favours by adopting a 'civil' approach. However, because of the country's size and vibrant economy it can act almost arrogantly with small nations such as the UAE.
One may argue that the actions reflect India's institutionalization of its state infrastructure. An example of the Indian 'system' working independently and systematically the way a bureaucracy should.
Conversely, the Pakistan approach illustrates deficiencies in the institutionalization of the state and its weak economy. The incident also underlines Pakistan's 'top-down' affinity with the Islamic world.
The Indian and Pakistani approach to seemingly trivial diplomatic issues demonstrates the divergent paths taken by the two nations in the post-colonial era.
Post Script: After being detained for five days, both crew and plane left for their original destination of Hanyang, China on September 10, 2009.
(The author spent many of his teenage years in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the UAE. More recently he spent over 5 years in Dubai until returning to Singapore earlier this year.)

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