Today
Tue 25 January 2022

A new infrastructure deal between Dubai and New Delhi is a staggering blow for the Muslim majority territory’s aspirations for self-determination, says CJ Werleman

In what can only be described as a knife in the back of eight million Kashmiri Muslims, Dubai – one of the UAE’s seven Emirates – recently signed an accord with the Indian Government to build infrastructure in the Indian-occupied territory of Jammu and Kashmir, an internationally recognised disputed territory.

While only a memorandum of understanding at this stage, the deal will see Dubai deliver more than a billion dollars’ worth of projects in Kashmir – including industrial parks, a medical college, a specialty hospital, logistic centres, IT towers and multi-purpose towers.

What it will also deliver is a staggering blow to Kashmiri aspirations for self-determination, putting the territory’s Muslim majority at greater geopolitical distance from the plebiscite promised to them by the UN Security Council in 1948.

The Indian Government can barely conceal its giddiness, however, with Trade Minister Piyush Goyal boasting: “The world has started to recognise the pace [at] which Jammu and Kashmir is traversing on the development bandwagon.”

“Development” is the banner under which Narendra Modi’s Government has tried to sell its move to suddenly and anti-democratically strip Kashmir of its semi-autonomous status on 5 August 2019. But, instead of development, the disputed territory’s Muslim majority has received only ‘security’ crackdowns, curfews, telecommunications black-outs, internet bans and travel restrictions – all of which are designed to cut Kashmiris off from the outside world.

These draconian measures have been supplemented with the mass arrest and detainment of local political leaders, journalists, secessionists, human rights defenders, and vocal critics of the Indian government – which, in turn, has mobilised indigenous armed resistance groups, providing New Delhi with the pretext to crackdown even harder; a reality affirmed by the detainment of more than 700 so-called ‘terrorist sympathisers‘ in recent weeks.

“The Indian Government told the Kashmiris that, after the special status is abrogated, they will have development, funds, jobs, everything,” Tanvir Sadiq, a member of the National Conference Party who was among those arrested by Indian forces in 2019, said in a recent interview. “Two years down the line, has the life of an average Kashmiri improved? I don’t think so.”

Put simply, life hasn’t improved for the average Kashmiri because India wants Kashmir – but not its people. So it uses ‘economic development’ as fig-leaf for settler-colonialism. But, as the state of Israel knows all too well, colonisation is problematic without the backing of international partners.

Enter the United Arab Emirates, which only recently normalised Israel’s settler-colonial enterprise in the occupied Palestinian Territories by becoming the lead signatory to the Abraham Accords, signed last year with former US President Donald Trump.


Trading Strategy

In both style and substance, the memorandum of understanding signed between Dubai and New Delhi eerily echoes the Trump administration’s ‘Deal of the Century’ – a ruse to whitewash Israel’s violations of international and human rights law by promising economic development to the Palestinians.

It can also be said that, in the same way the Abraham Accords are a cynical ploy meant to delay or block Palestinian statehood, the Indian Government is using the promise of Arab Gulf investment to crush any possibility of a future independent Kashmiri state.

And, as is the case with Israel, New Delhi has the United States firmly in its corner, given that Washington D.C. sees it as an indispensable partner in its superpower rivalry with China. But, even more worryingly for Kashmiri Muslims, are growing financial ties between India and wealthy Arab countries – which were notably muted in their silence towards the revocation of Kashmir’s semi-autonomous status.

Saudi Arabia dismissed the move as an “internal issue”, while Emirate Ambassador to India, Ahmed al-Banna, absurdly claimed that India’s annexation of the disputed territory “would improve social justice and security” and promote “stability and peace”. But it should also be noted that the UAE promised the same outcome from the Abraham Accords, days before Israel killed 256 Palestinians, including 66 children, during an 11-day military siege on Gaza.

At the heart of their collective contempt towards Kashmir is the $100 billion in annual trade Arab Gulf countries enjoy with India, making it “one of the Arabian Peninsula’s most prized economic partners”, observes the Associated Press.

In fact, official foreign trade statistics reveal that Gulf Cooperation Council countries count among India’s largest trading partners in terms of goods exported and imported, with Indian investments in the UAE surpassing $55 billion.

The great fear for Kashmir and Pakistan is that, the closer these Arab Gulf countries move into India’s geopolitical orbit, the more isolated Islamabad will become from its Muslim allies and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, leaving it without diplomatic avenues to build support for Kashmiri independence.

As noted by Kabir Taneja, a fellow at Strategic Studies, the relationship between the UAE and Pakistan has been “dented” over the past few years, with Abu Dhabi blocking work visas for Pakistani immigrants, while ushering in bigger uptakes of Indian migrants, therefore causing a blow to the Pakistani economy, which depends on foreign remittances.

It is for all of these reasons that both Islamabad and Kashmir’s Muslim majority population will view the infrastructure deal between Dubai and New Delhi as anything but a treacherous backstabbing.

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