A new black mark in the history of the UAE and Bahrain

Despite the fact that India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently revoked the special status that granted rights to Kashmir and its people to make their own constitution, the government of the UAE has awarded him the country’s highest civilian honour. This is a new low, even by the UAE’s standards, and a black mark in its history.

It is unbelievable that Modi has moved against Muslims who live in the Indian-administrated Kashmir, and yet a Muslim country like the UAE has granted him such an honour. Reversing the autonomous status in place for decades certainly seemed to mean nothing to Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Zayed, who is the de facto ruler of the Gulf state.

Instead of condemning Modi’s recent actions — which is arguably an obligation for every single Muslim country — Bin Zayed held a ceremony where he personally placed the medal around Modi’s neck. This is what happens when economic ties are the priority; human rights and morality become minor issues.

A few days before Modi’s visit to Abu Dhabi, Khalifa Industrial Zone Abu Dhabi (Kizad), announced an agreement with All India Plastic Manufacturers’ Association (AIPMA) in Delhi. This suggests that commercial deals are the main focus. At a time when there are many conflicts around the globe, this may also have appeared to be a good time for both leaders to strengthen relations, not least due to regional tensions.

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Modi may have thought that he could simply do what liked to the Kashmiris without anyone taking him to task. At a time when there are other issues taking priority over Kashmir internationally, attention is not focused on the suffering of its people in the way that it once was. Similarly, Bin Zayed took advantage of the same indifference about Kashmir as well as tension elsewhere and went ahead with the award ceremony regardless. He has apparently ignored the voices urging him to reconsider.

Perhaps the UAE Crown Prince hoped that there would not be too many voices critical of his decision. He was probably right, because despite its significance, the award given to Modi did not attract much attention in the international media.

Kashmiri villagers walk past the debris of a house which was damaged by Indian forces in Kashmir on 5 March 2019 [Faisal Khan/Anadolu Agency]

Kashmiri villagers walk past the debris of a house which was damaged by Indian forces in Kashmir on 5 March 2019 [Faisal Khan/Anadolu Agency]

The UAE’s recent actions suggest a leadership and policies that are foundering. Not only does it not want to be a victim of a US-Iran war and so is trying to get closer to Tehran, but it is also aiming to maintain a good relationship with Israel.

Earlier this month, the New York Times reported that the US “is participating in secret talks between the United Arab Emirates and Israel to confront threats posed by Iran, a shared adversary among the three countries.” How does the UAE expect to balance its relations between Tehran and Tel Aviv? Has Abu Dhabi been deceiving Tehran just to play safe? After the revelation about the UAE-Israel talks, how will Iran respond?

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Furthermore, while the UAE has been saying that it will adopt a “peace first strategy” after announcing its drawdown from the war in Yemen that has led to what is now the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, it is now backing the Southern Transitional Council (STC), which has fought in Aden and Shabwah against forces loyal to the Saudi-backed Yemeni government. This is another example of where the UAE has failed to have a clear policy, and raises the question of whether training the STC and, reportedly, helping in its fight against the government really is a “peace-first” strategy. Unfortunately, the UAE is only complicating the situation in Yemen even further.

Now, when the UAE is trying to portray itself as a country that helps its fellow Muslims, it has rolled out the red carpet for Modi, despite his crackdown on Kashmiri Muslims. That looks like yet another contradiction in UAE policy.

Moreover, the UAE is not alone in its approach to the Indian leader. Bahrain has also hosted Modi, thereby making him become the first Indian Prime Minister to visit the tiny Kingdom. The Bahraini government has apparently pardoned 250 Indians held in its jails even as it imprisons thousands of its own citizens as part of a crackdown on political dissent. Bahrain’s King Hamad awarded Modi the “King Hamad Order of the Renaissance during his visit.

The only explanation for all of this is that the UAE and Bahrain only really care about what is in their own interests. The Muslims in Kashmir only want to live like other, with a modicum of dignity. They are not looking for influence or power, but respect. The UAE and Bahrain did not show them any respect at all in their hospitality and awards presented to India’s Narendra Modi. History will never be kind to regimes which have betrayed their fellow Muslims and basically thrown them under the proverbial bus.

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