India and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have agreed to work together to produce military weapons and expand cooperation in the energy sector, in two of many moves coming during the visit of Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed Zayed Al Nahyan to India. The Crown Prince is in India as the chief guest for the Republic Day parade, an honour India gives to countries it considers key to its diplomacy.
Last year, French President Francois Hollande was the chief guest while the year before, it was then US President Barack Obama.
Following talks between the Crown Prince and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a defence deal was signed to explore selling armaments and jointly producing defence equipment. It was one of 14 agreements that the two countries signed in all. Another was on a strategic storage facility which would allow the UAE to store crude oil in India, boosting the South Asian country's energy security.
"Security and defence cooperation have added growing, new dimensions to our relationship," said Modi, following talks with the Crown Prince yesterday.
"We have agreed to expand our useful cooperation in the field of defence to new areas including in the maritime domain. We regard UAE as an important partner in India's growth story... (The) UAE can benefit by linking with our growth in manufacturing and services."
Ties between India and the UAE have been growing stronger on the back of close cultural, religious and economic cooperation.
The Gulf region is not only important for energy security for Asia's fastest-growing economy which is in a constant quest for energy, but also home to 2.6 million Indians who work and send money back to their families.
Modi has also been looking at boosting ties with the UAE as part of India's wider outreach to the Gulf nations to attract investments from the oil-rich states into his country, increase maritime links and deepen intelligence cooperation to counter terror threats.
Analysts said that the rise of right-wing forces in the West is also driving countries like the UAE to look East, where India remains a key economy.
"The Gulf countries like the UAE feel threatened with the changing scenario in the West with the rise of right-wing parties," said Zikrur Rahman, a former Indian ambassador to Palestine.
"They feel it is time to look East where they know India is a dominant economy and, for a start, has indigenous defence capabilities.
"Also, India is very active in the Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea and could provide maritime security," he said.
"If joint defence production starts, it will also be a gateway to supply Indian weapons and arms to not just other Gulf countries but also Africa."
The two countries also share similar concerns in areas like counterterrorism. Five UAE diplomats were recently killed in a bomb attack in Afghanistan.
The UAE is India's third-largest trading partner for the year 2014-2015 after China and the United States. Bilateral trade stood at US$50 billion last year with the country also a gateway to India's exports to Africa and Central Asia.
Still, impediments to enhanced cooperation remain, with a recent study by the Ananta Centre, a public policy forum, noting that investors from the UAE had to spend a lot of time looking for investments and faced procedural delays.
On defence, the report also noted that India's private-sector shipyards could provide patrol vessels and frigate designs which the UAE had been sourcing from the US and Europe, but noted that working with local partners would be a challenge as far as joint production was concerned.
In a rare honour today, a contingent from the UAE armed forces will be marching in the annual Republic Day parade, which showcases India's military might and cultural diversity.