Prime Minister Narendra Modi's landmark visit to the United Arab Emirates came to an end on Monday with a truly comprehensive achievement. The bilateral relationship is now a "comprehensive strategic partnership" and Abu Dhabi has committed, at least on paper, to helping New Delhi fight terror in a big way while sending a message to Pakistan. The joint statement put out by the two countries goes even further, with the UAE promising to help India in its fight for a permanent seat at the United Nations and New Delhi thanking Abu Dhabi for its support of International Yoga Day celebrations.

It's only at the very bottom of a rather lengthy joint statement, covering everything from the UAE's impending Mars Mission to the gratitude for Yoga Day support, that the statement acknowledges any sort of concern for the thousands of Indians in the country, many of whom live and work under conditions regularly reported as being inhumane.

"Proximity, history, cultural affinity, strong links between people, natural synergies, shared aspirations and common challenges create boundless potential for a natural strategic partnership between India and UAE," says the joint statement released by the two nations.
"Yet, in the past, relations between the two governments have not kept pace with the exponential growth in relations between their people or the promise of this partnership. However, the need for a close strategic partnership between UAE and India has never been stronger or more urgent, and its prospects more rewarding, than in these uncertain times."

This leads into the 31 points of the new comprehensive strategic partnership, which sound quite impressive. India, which has had concerns about drug and terror funds flowing through Dubai as well as the UAE's monetary and international support for Pakistan in the past, managed to extract a fairly strong commitment on anti-terror activities.

"The two nations reject extremism and any link between religion and terrorism," the statement says. "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." The South Asia reference naturally is aimed at Pakistan, but the West Asia indicator allows India to assert its support for Abu Dhabi's stern stance against Daesh, the Islamic State.

The statement goes on to cover all sorts of cooperation, such as working together to regulate the flow of funds that could have a bearing on "radicalization activities" as well as strong cooperation on drug trafficking and anti-money laundering efforts. It even includes a line involving the cooperation of defence equipment in India, helping push Modi's Make in India effort.

On the trade front it looks equally positive. The statement targets a 60% increase in trade over the next year, with the two countries already counting each other as being among their top three trading partners right now. The two have also committed to the setting up of a $75 billion UAE-India Infrastructure Fund aimed at building roads, railways, ports and airports in India. And of course, on the oil and energy front, the cooperation is only set to increase.

The statement then meanders over a diverse set of interests, from Yoga Day to the UAE's nascent space programme to poverty reduction, before, in the final bullet note on the 31-point strategic agreement, covering the welfare of workers.
"People-to-people were at the heart of India-UAE relations and both governments will continue to nurture these relations and ensure the welfare of their citizens, especially the workers, in each other's country, as also work together to prevent human trafficking."

It's not that surprising to see this point come so low on the statement, with positioning not always directly correlating to relative importance, and platitudes about people-to-people contacts often coming at the bottom (though the most important points would still be expected to be placed at the top).

Considering the general approach of countries in the Gulf towards welfare of foreign workers, even that should count as something of a victory. Last year Human Rights Watch reported on the troubling abuse faced by foreign labourers, particularly domestic workers, in the UAE. Conversely, with New Delhi dependent on many of these countries for both investment and energy, it rarely does much to criticise or improve the plight of its citizens there.

Indeed, the problem largely begins in India itself, with sketchy recruitment agencies exploiting vulnerable labour, and authorities having done little to crack down on either of these concerns, in part because of the vast amount of remittances that are anyhow being sent back to India.

Which is why the position of the labour welfare portion at very bottom of this joint statement couldn't be more appropriate.